Scaup Show

Scaup male preening (Probably Greater Scaup, Aythya marila)

The Scaup around the park have come to me to complain about lack of coverage on this blog. In the past month I’ve had umpteen posts about Burrowing Owls, they said, and the only recent post about Scaup was November 30. “We’ve been here all of December,” they said, “and you’re ignoring us.” Admittedly, I was ignoring them. They sit on the water not doing much. Boring. And then, at the peak of the King Tide around the turn of the year, I saw a spectacular-looking duck on a rock at the water’s edge, preening vigorously. It had vivid coloring and sharp contrasts on a graceful, athletic form. Without knowing what it was, I fired up my camera and started filming. I was half a minute or so into the take when I realized, OMG, this beautiful duck is a Scaup!

But is it a Lesser or a Greater Scaup? Birders want to know. I’m not at all sure. But I’m making a guess that it’s a Greater. The head has its peak toward the front. The nail (black tip of the bill) is quite wide, almost like lipstick. (You can see it clearly in the photo below.) And the iridescence on the sides of the head shimmers green. That’s not an infallible field mark (some Lessers also show green, and much depends on the light) but it supports the head and nail indications. There’s no shame in getting this wrong.

Scaup male (Probably Greater Scaup, Aythya marila)

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