Archived 2015 topics: Velvet Scoter (Melanitta fusca) – downlist from Endangered to Vulnerable?

Velvet Scoter Melanitta fusca breed in Scandinavia and Russia, east to the River Yenisey and south to Kazakhstan, with isolated populations in the Caucasus; it winters in the Baltic Sea and coastal W Europe, with some in the Black and Caspian Seas (Carboneras & Kirwan 2014). It is currently listed as Endangered, because when last assessed it was considered to have undergone a very rapid population decline.

Globally, it has an extremely large range in the breeding season (>5 million km2) and a very large range in winter (>250,000 km2), and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criteria (B and D2). Its population size is also very large (c. 450,000 individuals; Wetlands International 2012), and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criteria (C and D1). Therefore, the only potentially relevant criterion is A, which relates to reductions in population size. Until recently, the population was thought to be declining very rapidly, based largely on a c. 60% reduction in the numbers counted wintering in the Baltic Sea between 1992–3 and 2007–9 (Skov et al. 2011), which exceeded the threshold for listing as Endangered under criterion A (at least a 50% decline over ten years or three generations, whichever is longer).

New data collated from across Europe for the European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International 2015) suggest that the species is no longer declining so steeply overall (although several national populations are still declining, and none are increasing). A combination of official data reported by 27 EU Member States to the European Commission under Article 12 of the EU Birds Directive and comparable data from other European countries, provided by BirdLife Partners and other leading national ornithologists, suggests that the European wintering population has probably declined overall by only 30–49% over the last three generations (22.5 years, based on a generation length estimated by BirdLife to be 7.5 years). Consequently, the species is now classified as Vulnerable at European level (BirdLife International 2015).

Europe holds virtually the entire global population in winter, so this trend is globally significant. Now that rate of decline in Europe appears to have slowed, the information available implies that globally the species is not declining sufficiently rapidly to be listed as Endangered, and should be reclassified as Vulnerable.

Comments on this proposal are welcome, along with any data regarding the recent trend of its core breeding population in Russia, along with any additional information about the threats currently affecting this species across its range.


BirdLife International (2015) European Red List of Birds. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

Carboneras, C. & Kirwan, G.M. (2014). Velvet Scoter (Melanitta fusca). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Skov, H. et al. (2011) Waterbird populations and pressures in the Baltic Sea (Vol. 550). Nordic Council of Ministers.

Wetlands International (2012) Waterbird Population Estimates: 5th edition.

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8 Responses to Archived 2015 topics: Velvet Scoter (Melanitta fusca) – downlist from Endangered to Vulnerable?

  1. Mid winter counts show decline of wintering population in wintering ground in Baltic sea Lithuania.

  2. Ib Krag Petersen says:

    We would like to express our support for this change in status of the species, but continue to urge for better methods and international coordination of monitoring for all Velvet Scoter populations.

    The results of aerial survey monitoring of this species suggests some recovery numbers using Danish waters, with a country total of 6,775 counted in January 2013 (Pihl et al 2015) compared to 601 in the previous full countrywide survey in 2008 using the same methods (Pihl et al 2013). It should be kept in mind that these numbers are actually observed birds, and not calculated total numbers from the line transect sampling method. Depending upon conditions the estimation of total numbers will result in ca. five times higher numbers for as species like Velvet Scoter. It was also evident from the steep rise in non-systematic observational records reported to the Danish Ornithologists Society portal and the increase in numbers of Velvet Scoter reported shot by hunters applying for licenses that there were considerably more individuals in Danish waters in 2013 than in many previous years.

    Nonetheless, we continue to aware that there are limits on the accuracy of determining Velvet Scoter from Common Scoter during aerial survey which also restricts our ability to effectively monitor changes in abundance of this species. We urgently need to look at patterns of change in distribution and abundance at the flyway level of this species. This is yet another offshore wintering sea duck that is very poorly monitored and there is a very great need for improved methods and international collaboration of monitoring efforts to better understand their distribution, abundance and trends in annual population change to better manage these species.

    Pihl, S., Clausen, P., Petersen, I.K., Nielsen, R.D., Laursen, K., Bregnballe, T., Holm, T.E. & Søgaard, B. (2013): Fugle 2004-2011. NOVANA. Research report from Danish Centre for Environment and Energy, Aarhus University No. 49. 188 pp. (in Danish)

    Pihl, S., Holm, T.E., Clausen, P., Petersen, I.K., Nielsen, R.D., Laursen, K., Bregnballe, T. & Søgaard, B. 2015. Fugle 2012-2013: NOVANA. Research report from Danish Centre for Environment and Energy, Aarhus University No. 125. 170 pp. (in Danish) accessible at

    Ib Krag Petersen & Tony Fox, Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Kalø, Grenåvej 14, DK-8410 Rønde, Denmark

  3. At Cape Põõsaspea, NW Estonia, the autumn totals of migrating Velvet Scoters are pretty high, maybe 20 % of whole Northwest European flyway population. The figures for autumns 2004-2009-2014 have been: 52.300 vs 60.500 vs 74.400. If we take the sums from standardized observation periods (6 hours per day), figure is for 2004-2009-2014: 26.600 vs 29.600 vs 39.800. So it seems, that at least there is no decreasing trend. Maybe some recovery have even been happened.
    The project website (with further links to publications)

  4. Regarding wintering population in the Lithuanian coastal waters, it show some decline during the last decade. This can be related with destruction of the feeding habitats (one of the reason – increased population of the invasive species – Balck Goby) and gillnet by-catch. However, latest studies hunt out the wintering population with quite good numbers – up to 28.000 wintering birds – in offshore waters. Thus, it is nor clear, either the population was underestimated in previous years, or wintering birds changed the wintering waters which are not affected by Black Goby (to deep waters) and where gillnet fishery is not a practice for commercial fishery.

  5. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Hans Meltofte, chairman of the conservation committee of DOF/BirdLife Denmark, has provided the following comment, which may in part relate to Velvet Scoter:

    Finally, we have a problem with waterfowl populations now wintering farther north and east in N Europe, where they are poorer covered by counts than previously. There are several papers on this in the recent scientific literature. This means that we can’t trust the census results e.g. for the diving ducks in the Baltic – where we can’t even trust the original counts from the 1990s that the postulated declines are based on.

  6. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2015 Red List would be to treat:

    Velvet Scoter as Vulnerable under criterion A2+3+4.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 31 August, after which the recommended categorisation will be put forward to IUCN.

    The final Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife website in late October and on the IUCN website in November, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  7. Kjell Larsson says:

    In January 2015 I took photos of wintering velvet scoters at Oder bank in the German part of the Baltic Sea to test if it was practically possible to estimate sex ratios in winter from photos. Analyses of the photos indicated a very skewed sex ratio, only 25 % females. If general, the very skewed sex ratio should be considered when estimating the vulnerability of the population.

  8. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Recommended categorisation to be put forward to IUCN

    Following further review, there have been no changes to our preliminary proposal for the 2015 Red List status of this species.

    The final categorisation will be published on the BirdLife website in late October and on the IUCN website in November, following further checking of information relevant to the assessment by BirdLife and IUCN.

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