Thursday, February 3, 2011

Dead White-winged Scoter

That is what it appears to be, at least. On Monday, before yet another winter storm, I wandered around the coastal grasslands Stratford Point after one of our typical waterfowl surveys. Wandering is not quite the right wrong for it. Since we have feet of snow on the ground, the area is only passable with snowshoes. I wear mine every day and can survey the area on our mowed paths with relative ease. However, the thick area of grasslands was difficult to traverse even with special equipment. I sunk straight through the snow up to my waist. Nevertheless, before I made my way out I discovered a carcass that appeared to be a White-winged Scoter. The large photo of the devoured duck is below - if you have a weak stomach do not click on it.

It was not far beyond our beach. How did it get there? That is a very good question, and one we cannot answer with absolute certainty. One theory was hunting, but I do not believe it was shot by hunters and washed ashore. It could not have been where it was without help, but there were no drag marks on the snow, so it was not brought off the beach by mammals after washing up. Hunting season also ended before the previous storm (it is hard to keep track, trust me on this one) and this was quite obviously on top of the all of the snow. It looked like it had been dropped from the air.

Twan agreed by saying that there was not any indication of scavenging or feeding in the snow surrounding the carcass, at least yet, but that clearly all the "good" parts had been consumed. He also made a particularly interesting observation, saying that there were no broken or smashed bones in the sternum area, which indicates that something without teeth was to blame. So that brings us to raptors...which one? Peregrine Falcon would be the most obvious choice, even with such a sizable prey. They are frequently seen in the area year-round, and as you can see in my last blog entry, a pair has been hanging out at nearby Long Beach during this harsh winter. They are listed as a predator for scoter along with Bald Eagles in the Birds of North America Online. Only exceptionally rarely are Bald Eagles seen at the mouth of the Housatonic River despite the fact they are frequently seen mere miles further up it.

The best guess then seems to be a Peregrine Falcon taking a sick or injured White-winged Scoter around Stratford Point then dropping the heavy kill there to eat in a quieter place. Even though they hunt for small mammals, I have seen Northern Harriers eat freshly killed ducks and geese when they are frozen in winter in Stratford. One or two of the many we get at Stratford Point in winter may have helped to finish off this carcass.

Photo © Scott Kruitbosch


  1. Scott,
    I have to wonder if a peregrine is capable of flying with a bird as heavy as this scoter.
    This scoter should outweigh the peregrine by almost 2.5 to 1.
    A large load at become airborn with.


  2. Indeed, Larry - I am guessing that may be why it was dropped in such an exposed and inopportune spot.