As would be expected, sea ducks frequent our Pacific coast, coastal estuaries and inland marine waters from the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the southern end of Hood Canal and Puget Sound. Most feed on marine vegetation, invertebrates and small fish.
Scoters are Washington’s most common sea ducks, and the surf scoter is the most abundant of our three scoter species. The drake surf scoter, with its unusual and brightly colored head, is a unique trophy for duck hunters. Both the white-winged and black scoter are larger than the surf scoter.
With its long, skinny tail, the long-tailed duck looks at first glance something like a pintail, and is sometimes referred to as the oldsquaw. Nowhere near as abundant as the surf scoter, this sea duck does show up in saltwater duck hunters’ bags throughout the season.
Although also found in freshwater, the goldeneye is actually considered a sea duck and is mostly found on saltwater during winter in our state. We have two species of goldeneye here, the Barrow’s goldeneye and the common goldeneye. It’s hard to tell hens of the two species apart, but the Barrow’s drake tends to be a little larger and has a larger white, half-moon-shaped white spot between its eye and bill.
The drake harlequin duck ranks right up there with the wood duck when it comes to striking coloration. Although rare, the harlequin is always a possibility for hunters along Washington’s marine waterways.