They came in on October 8, almost two weeks earlier than the first wave of them last year (“A Thousand Scaup,” October 20, 2020). There might have been a thousand of them this time also, but I didn’t even try to count. They stuck together in a right raft, sometimes moving in a definite direction, other times just milling around and seeming to go in circles.
At the time I watched them, very few of them were diving, so they weren’t hungry, even though they’d just completed a stage in a flight of more than 2,500 miles from their Arctic breeding grounds. They breed around the circle in North America, Europe, and Russia. In winter they fly south to just about every country that has an ocean coast or a big inner lake.
They’re strong flyers, capable of reaching 75mph in the air. They’re omnivorous, diving for marine proteins or vegetation, whatever’s available. They are stronger divers than other diving ducks. They can stay underwater for up to a minute and dive down to 20 feet.
Appearing like this in flocks of hundreds is their typical behavior. They are hunted for sport or for meat where that is legal, but the principal threat to their numbers is habitat contamination. Water pollution from industrial and agricultural runoff poisons the food they eat and renders them infertile or sick and weak.
Their worldwide population has been in steady decline since the 1980s, but they still number in excess of a million. They are frequent and regular visitors to the North Basin. In the past they only paused here for a few days and then continued south. On the reverse migration in the spring, we see them in large numbers again from March through May.