- 17–21 inches (43–53 cm)
- Male black with white patches on crown and nape. Bill colourful, swollen at base, bearing large black spot
- Female brownish black, with two whitish patches on cheek. Both sexes lack white wing patch
Breeds on northern lakes; winters almost entirely on the ocean and in large coastal bays.
Five to eight pinkish-buff eggs in a down-lined depression hidden under bushes or in marsh vegetation, not necessarily near water.
Breeds in Alaska and across northern Canada to Labrador. Winters mainly along coasts, from Alaska south to California and from Newfoundland south to Florida and rarely to Texas.
A low guttural croaking.
The so-called “skunk-head” is the only one of the three scoters confined to the New World, and is the most common scoter on the Pacific Coast in winter, where it sometimes feeds quite close to rocky headlands and in shallow inlets. These birds are similar in their habits to the other scoters but are more often seen diving for mollusks and crustaceans along the line of breaking surf. The bold white patches on the male’s head are used in displays; a bird may threaten a rival simply by turning its head and presenting its white nape. These scoters depart for breeding grounds in early spring, but a few, usually young males, may spend their second summer on wintering grounds.