Surf Scoters breed on inland lakes but winter on the coasts, and migratory movements take place at night. When diving underwater, the behavior of Surf Scoters is variable. Sometimes they propel themselves with their feet alone, sometimes they extend their wings to help steer, and sometimes they propel themselves with both wings and feet.
Until near the end of the 20th century, very few studies of breeding Surf Scoters had been conducted, making it one of the most poorly studied species. Surf Scoters are thought to breed for the first time at age two or three, but little information exists as to their maximum lifespan.
Male and female Surf Scoters are substantially different in appearance.
Juvenile males resemble females but have a distinctive bill shape. The front of the head and the bill give a sloped appearance in adult males.
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