Common Scoters by Jon Heath

Common Scoter Nocturnal Flight Calls: long calls?

Since Magnus Robb posted a Sound Approach article describing the short ‘peep‘ calls of migrating Common Scoters, this species has been a target for many UK nocturnal migration recorders. Late March and early April 2018 were memorable for the number of scoters crossing southern and central England, with many people recording the species for the first time. Here’s one such recording, from a typically noisy night in Cambridge (03:13, 14th April 2018).


At the time I didn’t pay much attention to the long, flat beeps, passing these off as an anthropogenic sound — maybe a reversing siren of a truck! But on 30th August 2018 I recorded a similar flat whistle, accompanied by wing beats that sound distinctly duck like. In the original Sound Approach article, Magnus Robb mentioned that Black Scoter give longer calls, but that would be an outrageous claim for Cambridgeshire…


Some Common Scoter recordings on Xeno-canto include longer calls, but these are at the same frequency as the peep calls, around 1.8 kHz, and sound like drawn out peep notes, as in this example I recorded in Skagen, Denmark in May 2018. Notice also the typical “steam train” wingbeat sounds.


In contrast, the calls from August were around 2.2 kHz, with slight modulations and slightly dropping in frequency.

Common Scoter long flat whistles 0121 30/08/2018 Cambridge (Simon Gillings)
Common Scoter long flat whistles 0121 30/08/2018 Cambridge (Simon Gillings)

Looking back through my scoter recordings I realised that “reversing vehicle noise” from 14th April was actually the same long flat calls. And then on 25th September 2018 I recorded another group of Common Scoter over Cambridge, again giving typical peep calls and 2.2 kHz long calls. I’ve since recorded these calls in combination again, in October 2018.





Unless each of these flocks had a second species lurking amongst the scoters, these recordings suggest that nocturnally migrating Common Scoters sometimes give long calls instead of, or as well as the more familiar peep notes. I don’t know how common these calls are or which ages or sexes produce them, but I would interested to hear from anyone else who has recordings of similar calls.


Credits: recordings © Simon Gillings; Common Scoter photo © Jon Heath.