email a friend
printable version
Velvet Scoter Melanitta fusca

This species is classified as Vulnerable. It is estimated to have undergone a population decline of 30-49% over the last three generations. It was previously estimated to be undergoing very rapid population declines however the rate of decline has apparently slowed. The causes of this decline are not fully understood and further research is needed to inform conservation actions.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

Taxonomic note
Melanitta fusca has been split into Melanitta fusca, M. deglandi and M. stejnegeri following a review of recent literature (Livezey 1995, Garner et al. 2004, Sangster et al. 2005, Collinson et al. 2006, AOU 2010) and museum specimens by the BirdLife Taxonomic Working Group.

Melanitta fusca (Linnaeus, 1758) pro parte

51-58 cm. Large Melanitta species, distinguished from M. nigra at long range in flight or when flapping wings by obvious white secondaries forming a square wing bar. Male is blackish and has yellow and black bill, peaking at nostrils, and pale eye with white mark underneath; female is medium to dark brown with paler greyish-brown patches between eyes and bill and adjacent to ear coverts. Males of M. deglandi and M. stejnegeri both have more extensive white patch below and behind eye, and more orange-coloured, distinctively peaked bills, as well as less rounded head shape; females of M. fusca are distinguished from these species by more rounded, frontally-peaked head (see Garner et al. 2004).

Distribution and population
This species breeds in Scandinavia, from Norway and Sweden, into Finland and Estonia, and western Siberian Russia to the River Yenisey, and winters mostly in the Baltic Sea and along the coasts of Western Europe, including Estonia, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, United Kingdom, Ireland, France and Spain (Kear 2005), accounting for the vast majority of the global population (Delany and Scott 2006). An estimated 1,500 birds winter in the Black Sea and Caucasus (Delany and Scott 2006), and are thought to be from breeding populations in Turkey, Armenia, Georgia and Turkmenistan (Kear 2005). Since surveys in 1992-1993, when the estimate of the north-west European wintering population was updated to c.1 million birds, an apparent decline of c. 60% (3.7% annually) was detected in the Baltic Sea, with counts in 2007-2009 putting the wintering population at c. 373,000 individuals, down from c.933,000 in 1992-1993 (Skov et al. 2011). This is believed to represent a real decline in the species's population, rather than a shift in its geographic distribution, as other data sets corroborate this negative trend.

The breeding population in Finland is reported to be declining (at a rate of c. 30% over 10 years [per M. Ellermaa in litt. 2012] or by 27-57% between 2001 and 2012 [BirdLife International 2015]), with the breeding population along the Baltic coast having decreased by c. 50% between 1986 and 2010 (Aleksi Lehikoinen et al. in litt. 2012). A long term decline has been noted in numbers passing Hanko Bird Observatory in autumn (at a rate of c. 50% over 30 years), but this decline stopped in 1995 (M. Ellermaa in litt. 2012). Similarly, numbers passing Vyborg (eastern Gulf of Finland) decreased from an average of 130 birds/hour in 1988-1994, to 55 birds/hour in 1995-1999, and 53 birds/hour in 2000-2008, although error margins may be considerable (J. Kontiokorpi in litt. 2012, A. Lehikoinen et al. in litt. 2012). Numbers recorded at Söderskär Bird Observatory have also been decreasing since the 1980s (A. Lehikoinen et al. in litt. 2012). The breeding population in Estonia is also noted to have declined between 1970 and 1990 (M. Ellermaa in litt. 2012) and between 1980 and 2012 (50-70% decrease) (BirdLife International 2015). Numbers breeding and moulting in Kandalaksha State Nature Reserve, north-western Russia, have declined four-fold since c. 2002 (V.V. Bianki and I.A. Kharitonova in litt. 2012).

Population justification
Surveys in 2007-2009 put the wintering population in the Baltic Sea at c. 373,000 individuals (Skov et al. 2011), with perhaps a few thousand wintering along coasts elsewhere in Europe, and another c. 1,500 wintering in the Black Sea and Caucasus (Delany and Scott 2006). Its total population is now estimated at 450,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2012).

Trend justification
Since surveys in 1992-1993, an apparent decline of c. 60% (3.7% annually) was detected in the Baltic Sea, with counts in 2007-2009 putting the wintering population at c. 373,000 individuals, down from c. 933,000 in 1992-1993 (Skov et al. 2011). Extrapolation of the data implied that this was equivalent to a decline of c.77% over the past three generations, estimated at 23 years (based on a generation length of c. 7.5 years [BirdLife International unpubl. data]). The Baltic Sea is the most important wintering area in the world for this species, holding c.93% of the global population in 1992-1993. It seemed unlikely that the proportion of the total north-west European wintering population present in the Baltic has dropped from 93% to 37% (see Skov et al. 2011), thus a very rapid decline had probably taken place. This is supported by reports of declines elsewhere in its range. Whilst a very rapid decline was projected over the next three generations, new data compiled for the 2015 European Red List of Birds shows that the decline in the European population has now slowed to 30-49% over three generations (BirdLife International 2015).

The species breeds on wooded coastlines, small freshwater lakes, pools and rivers in northern coniferous forests, wooded Arctic tundra and alpine zones, especially where there are boulder-covered or small rocky islands available for nesting with extensive herbaceous vegetation, shrubs and low trees (Johnsgard 1978, del Hoyo et al. 1992, Snow and Perrins 1998, Kear 2005). The majority of birds winter at sea on shallow inshore coastal waters (Madge and Burn 1988, del Hoyo et al. 1992), especially in estuaries or inlets where there are large mussel-beds (Snow and Perrins 1998). The species may also occur on freshwater lakes and estuaries during migration (Madge and Burn 1988, Kear 2005). Its diet consists predominantly of molluscs, as well as crustaceans, worms, echinoderms (del Hoyo et al. 1992), amphipods, isopods (Kear 2005), small fish, and (in freshwater habitats) adult and larval insects (del Hoyo et al. 1992). The species may also consume plant material on its breeding grounds (del Hoyo et al. 1992) (e.g. leaves and shoots) (Flint et al. 1984). It mainly forages by diving and may feed at depths of 30-40 m during the winter (del Hoyo et al. 1992). This species is highly migratory (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Madge and Burn 1988) and breeds from mid-May onwards (Madge and Burn 1988) in solitary pairs or loose groups (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kear 2005), occasionally nesting in association with gull or tern colonies (Kear 2005).

Moulting and wintering concentrations of this species are very susceptible to oil spills and other marine pollutants (Gorski et al. 1977, del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kear 2005, UICN France 2011) (an oil spill could destroy a large proportion of the global population if it occurred in a key moulting or wintering area [Madge and Burn 1988]). The species is also susceptible to the effects of commercial exploitation of marine benthic organisms and shellfish (Kear 2005), and is threatened by drowning in fishing nets (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kear 2005). It is threatened by habitat degradation as a result of the human exploitation of natural resources in the taiga and lower tundra regions of its breeding range (Kear 2005), and by lake drainage for irrigation and hydroelectric power production (Armenia) (Balian et al. 2002). It is susceptible to disturbance from tourism in remote coastal and freshwater habitats in its breeding range (Kear 2005), as well as disturbance from wind farms (wind turbines) (Garthe and Huppop 2004). The species suffers predation from American mink Neovison vison on islands (Nordstrom et al. 2002) and is also susceptible to avian influenza, so may be threatened by future outbreaks of the virus (Melville and Shortridge 2006). The species is a target of hunters in some areas (e.g. Bregnballe et al. 2006).

Conservation and Research Actions Underway
Very few targeted conservation actions are known for this species, although numbers in some parts of its range (accounting for most of the population) have received monitoring in recent decades, and it occurs in some protected areas. An EU Management Plan for 2007-2009 was published. Experimental removal of American mink Neovison vison, a nest predator, in the outer archipelago of south-west Finland resulted in an increase in the breeding density of this species (Nordstrom et al. 2002).

Conservation and Research Actions Proposed
Continue to monitor numbers in both its breeding and wintering range. Ensure international collaboration on monitoring work to better understand the species's distribution, abundance and trends (I.K. Petersen in litt. 2015). Carry out research into the causes of the recently detected decline. Increase the area of breeding habitat that is protected. Tackle potential causes of mortality in wintering birds, such as drowning in fishing nets.

Balian, L. V.; Ghasabian, M. G.; Adamian, M. S.; Klem Jr, D. 2002. Changes in the waterbird community of the Lake Sevan-Lake Gilli area, Republic of Armenia: a case for restoration. Biological Conservation 106(2): 157-163.

BirdLife International. 2015. European Red List of Birds. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.

Bregnballe, T., Noer, H., Christensen, T.K., Clausen, P., Asferg, T., Fox, A.D. and Delany, S. 2006. Sustainable hunting of migratory waterbirds: the Danish approach. In: G. Boere, C. Galbraith, and D. Stroud (eds), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 854-860. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A.; Sargatal, J. 1992. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Delany, S.; Scott, D. 2006. Waterbird population estimates. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Flint, V.E., Boehme, R.L., Kostin, Y.V. and Kuznetsov, A.A. 1984. A field guide to birds of the USSR. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

Garner, M.; Lewington, I.; Rosenberg, G. 2004. Stejneger's Scoter in the Western Palearctic and North America. Birding World 17: 337-347.

Garthe, S.; Hüppop, O. 2004. Scaling possible adverse effects of marine wind farms on seabirds: developing and applying a vulnerability index. Journal of Applied Ecology 41(4): 724-734.

Gorski, W.; Jakuczun, B.; Nitecki, C.; Petryna, A. 1977. Investigation of oil pollution on the Polish Baltic coast in 1974-1975. Przeglad Zoologiczny 21(1): 20-23.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Johnsgard, P.A. 1978. Ducks, geese and swans of the World. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London.

Kear, J. 2005. Ducks, geese and swans volume 2: species accounts (Cairina to Mergus). Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K.

Madge, S. and Burn, H. 1988. Wildfowl. Christopher Helm, London.

Melville, D. S.; Shortridge, K. F. 2006. Migratory waterbirds and avian influenza in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway with particular reference to the 2003-2004 H5N1 outbreak. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 432-438. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Nordström, M.; Högmander, J.; Nummelin, J.; Laine, J.; Laanetu, N.; Korpimäki, E. 2002. Variable responses of waterfowl breeding populations to long-term removal of introduced American mink. Ecography 25: 385-394.

Scott, D. A.; Rose, P. M. 1996. Atlas of Anatidae populations in Africa and western Eurasia. Wetlands International, Wageningen, Netherlands.

Skov, H., Heinänen, S., Žydelis, R., Bellebaum, J., Bzoma, S., Dagys, M., Durinck, J., Garthe, S., Grishanov, G., Hario, M., Kieckbusch, J.J., Kube, J., Kuresoo, A., Larsson, K., Luigujoe, L., Meissner, W., Nehls, H.W., Nilsson, L., Petersen, I.K., Roos, M.M., Pihl, S., Sonntag, N., Stock, A., Stipniece, A. and Wahl, J. 2011. Waterbird Populations and Pressures in the Baltic Sea. Nordic Council of Ministers, Copenhagen.

Snow, D.W. and Perrins, C.M. 1998. The Birds of the Western Palearctic, Volume 1: Non-Passerines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Wetlands International. 2012. Waterbird Population Estimates: 5th Edition.

Further web sources of information
Detailed regional assessment and species account from the European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International, 2015)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Malpas, L., Taylor, J., Symes, A. & Ashpole, J

Below, A., Bianki, V., Burfield, I., Ellermaa, M., Grishanov, G., Hario, M., Kharitonov, S., Kharitonova, I., Kondratyev, A., Kontiokorpi, J., Lehikoinen, A., Lehikoinen, E., Lehtiniemi, T., Mikkola-Roos, M., Pessa, J., Pihl, S., Rajasarkka, A., Tiainen, J., Valkama, J., Petersen, I., Morkunas, J., Larsson, K. & Meltofte, H.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Melanitta fusca. Downloaded from on 01/12/2015. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 01/12/2015.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Velvet scoter (Melanitta fusca) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, Swans)
Species name author (Linnaeus, 1758)
Population size 300000 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 254,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- 2015 European Red List assessment