SCOTER, a word of doubtful origin, perhaps a variant of “Scout,” one of the many local names shared in common by the guillemot (q.v.) and the razorbill (q.v.), or perhaps primarily connected with coot (q.v.),[1] the English name of the Anas nigra of Linnaeus, a bird which with some allied species has been justifiably placed in a distinct genus, Oedemia (often misspelt Oidemia)—a name coined in reference to the swollen appearance of the base of the bill. The scoter is also very generally known around the British coasts as the “black duck” from the male being, with the exception of a stripe of orange that runs down the ridge of the bill, wholly of that colour. In the representative American form, Oe. americana, the protuberance at the base of the bill, black in the European bird, is orange as well. Of all ducks the scoter has the most marine habits, keeping the sea in all weathers, and rarely resorting to land except for the purpose of breeding. Even in summer small flocks of scoters may generally be seen in the tideway at the mouth of any of the larger British rivers or in mid-channel, while in autumn and winter these flocks are so increased as to number thousands of individuals, and the water often looks black with them. A second species, the velvet duck, Oe. fusca, of much larger size, distinguished by a white spot under each eye and a white bar on each wing, is far less abundant than the former, but examples of it are occasionally to be seen in company with the commoner one, and it too has its American counterpart, Oe. velvetina; while a third, only known as a straggler to Europe, the surf-duck, Oe. perspicillata, with a white patch on the crown and another on the nape, and a curiously particoloured bill, is a not uncommon bird in North American waters. All the species of Oedemia, like most other sea-ducks, have their true home in arctic or subarctic countries, but the scoter itself is said to breed occasionally in Scotland (Zoologist, s.s. p. 1867). The females display little of the deep sable hue that characterizes their partners, but are attired in soot-colour, varied, especially beneath, with brownish white. The flesh of all these birds has an exceedingly strong taste, and, after much controversy, was allowed by the authorities to rank as fish in the ecclesiastical dietary (cf. Graindorge, Traité de l'origine des macreuses, Caen, 1680; and Correspondence of John Ray, Ray Soc. ed., p. 148).  (A. N.) 

  1. In the former case the derivation seems to be from the O. Fr. Escoute, and that from the Latin auscultare, but in the latter from the Dutch Koet, which is said to be of Celtic extraction—cwtiar. The Fr. macreuse, possibly from Lat. macer, indicating a bird that may be eaten in Lent or on the fast days of the Roman Church, is of double signification, meaning in the south of France a coot and in the north a scoter. By the wild-fowlers of parts of North America scoters are commonly called coots.