Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Aves Anseriformes Anatidae

Scientific Name: Melanitta fusca
Species Authority: (Linnaeus, 1758)
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Velvet Scoter
Melanitta fusca (Linnaeus, 1758) pro parte
Taxonomic Source(s): del Hoyo, J., Collar, N.J., Christie, D.A., Elliott, A. and Fishpool, L.D.C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions BirdLife International.
Taxonomic Notes: 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.
Identification information: 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).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered A2bcde+3cde+4bcde ver 3.1
Year Published: 2013
Date Assessed: 2013-11-01
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Butchart, S.
Contributor(s): 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.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Malpas, L., Taylor, J.
This newly split species qualifies as Endangered because it is estimated to be undergoing a very rapid population decline. The causes of this decline, however, are not fully understood, and further research is needed to inform conservation actions.
Previously published Red List assessments:
2012 Endangered (EN)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Melanitta fusca 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, Spain and Portugal (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) has been 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 in decline (at a rate of c.30% over 10 years [per M. Ellermaa in litt. 2012]), 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). 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).

Countries occurrence:
Armenia (Armenia); Austria; Azerbaijan; Belarus; Belgium; Bulgaria; Croatia; Czech Republic; Denmark; Estonia; Finland; France; Georgia; Germany; Hungary; Iran, Islamic Republic of; Ireland; Italy; Kazakhstan; Latvia; Lithuania; Montenegro; Netherlands; Norway; Poland; Romania; Russian Federation; Serbia (Serbia); Slovakia; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Turkey; Turkmenistan; Ukraine; United Kingdom; Uzbekistan
Afghanistan; Algeria; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Egypt; Faroe Islands; Greece; Greenland; Iceland; Israel; Kyrgyzstan; Lebanon; Luxembourg; Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of; Morocco; Pakistan; Portugal; Svalbard and Jan Mayen; Tajikistan
Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO): Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO): No
Estimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2: 254000
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO): Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO): No
Continuing decline in number of locations: Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations: No
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: 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). On this basis, the total number of mature individuals (probably around 2/3 of the total population) is estimated at c.250,000.

Trend Justification:  Since surveys in 1992-1993, an apparent decline of c.60% (3.7% annually) has been 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 implies that this is 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 seems 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 has probably taken place. This is supported by reports of declines elsewhere in its range. A very rapid decline is projected over the next three generations, as the main causes of this negative trend have not been identified with certainty and are not known to have ceased.
For further information about this species, see 22724836_melanitta_fusca.pdf.
A PDF viewer such as Adobe Reader is required.
Current Population Trend: Decreasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals: 250000 Continuing decline of mature individuals: Yes
Extreme fluctuations: No Population severely fragmented: No
Continuing decline in subpopulations: Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations: No All individuals in one subpopulation: No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Behaviour 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). Non-breeding birds spend the breeding season in flocks on open water (Flint et al. 1984). After breeding (from June onwards [Scott and Rose 1996]) the adults migrate to moulting sites (males travelling and moulting before the females) (Madge and Burn 1988), where they become flightless for 3-4 weeks (Scott and Rose 1996). When moulting and overwintering the species is highly sociable and can occur in large flocks (Madge and Burn 1988, Scott and Rose 1996) of several thousands of individuals (Scott and Rose 1996), although it is more common in small scattered groups of c.100 individuals (Snow and Perrins 1998). The species mainly forages by diving and may feed at depths of 30-40 m during the winter (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Habitat Breeding The species breeds on wooded coastlines (Johnsgard 1978, Kear 2005), small freshwater lakes (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Snow and Perrins 1998, Kear 2005), pools and rivers (Snow and Perrins 1998) in northern coniferous forests (Johnsgard 1978, del Hoyo et al. 1992, Snow and Perrins 1998, Kear 2005), wooded Arctic tundra (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Snow and Perrins 1998) and alpine zones (Snow and Perrins 1998, Kear 2005), especially where there are boulder-covered or small rocky islands available for nesting with extensive herbaceous vegetation, shrubs and low trees (Johnsgard 1978, Kear 2005). Non-breeding The majority 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). Diet 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). Breeding site The nest is a shallow depression positioned on the ground (del Hoyo et al. 1992) in tall grass, among hummocks or under bushes (Flint et al. 1984), usually within 100 m of open water (occasionally up to 2-3 km away) (Kear 2005). The species usually nests in solitary pairs (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kear 2005), but it may form loose congregations (del Hoyo et al. 1992) (e.g. on islands [Kear 2005]) with neighbouring nests as close as 3 m apart (Snow and Perrins 1998), and will also nest in association with gull or tern colonies (Kear 2005). It has been known to use artificial nestboxes (Madge and Burn 1988). Management information Experimental removal (extermination) of the nest predator American mink Neovison vison in the outer archipelago of south-west Finland resulted in an increase in the breeding density of this species (Nordstrom et al. 2002).

Systems: Terrestrial; Freshwater; Marine
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat: Unknown
Generation Length (years): 7.5
Movement patterns: Full Migrant
Congregatory: Congregatory (and dispersive)

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): 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). Utilisation The species is a target of hunters in some areas (e.g. Bregnballe et al. 2006).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation Actions Underway
No 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.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue to monitor numbers in both its breeding and wintering range. 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.

Citation: BirdLife International. 2013. Melanitta fusca. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2013: e.T22724836A50435204. . Downloaded on 07 October 2015.
Disclaimer: To make use of this information, please check the <Terms of Use>.
Feedback: If you see any errors or have any questions or suggestions on what is shown on this page, please provide us with feedback so that we can correct or extend the information provided