The black-and-white patches on the heads of male Surf Scoters prompted this sea duck’s nickname “old skunkhead,” although the big, sloping orange bill is at least as distinctive. In winter, look for these dark-bodied ducks (and the browner females) near to shore, defying ocean waves with a quick dive just before they break. They breed in far northern Canada and Alaska, where the boreal forest gives way to open tundra.
Look for this widespread and numerous sea duck in winter along both Atlantic and Pacific coastlines. They're often in large flocks, and may be with with all-dark Black Scoters and larger White-winged Scoters, so it’s worth looking carefully through groups, especially if you have or can borrow a spotting scope. Despite their seagoing habits, they do occur inland on lakes and reservoirs during migration, especially during storms as they wait for better weather.
Information from the All About Birds website, www.allaboutbirds.org, © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.