The common name "coot," has been used here, as duck hunters and amateur bird spotters give this name to three species of scoters.
The white-winged scoter, surf scoter and American scoter are birds of one distinct class with special habits. They are sometimes found intermingled in the same flock and duck hunters have difficulty identifying one or the other as they approach the blind.
While some people eat coot, their meat is about the worst tasting of all the ducks. I have hunted them with friends who were excited about the sport. I went along just to see the fun but, frankly, couldn't find it. Certainly, after the first bite, I passed up the coot dinner.
All three species are found on both coasts from eastern Canada to Virginia, and from British Columbia to California. They are tough birds resisting the foul weather of the north until it practically forces them southward.
Their flight is usually just above the waves. They come into the blind head-on and look as if they were going to crash into your duck boat. Their speed is fast and their flight direct.
The American scoter is black all over except for a bright orange "bubble" at the top of the bill. The female is dark brown. The white-winged scoter is marked about the same, but with a small patch of white on the first section of the wing. The surf scoter is all dingy black, but with a patch of white on the back of the head and upper neck, and another white patch on the "cap" of the head. The bill is orange and white, with a decided blackcircular spot at its base. The legs of the others are black, but the surf scoter's are a dull orange.
The whitewing is the largest and probably the most common of the trio and the one most coveted by hunters. Their flight is direct, heavy and dull. They usually travel in bunches, but alternate from bunched-up gatherings to long single lines.
They are slow taking off from the water, usually needing a good headwind and lots of runway space that is smooth for the take-off. Watching them try to take off in a rough sea is quite an experience, for the waves will slap at them just as they are about to become free.
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