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The Lovely Lesser Scaup, An Interesting Tale

Updated on June 8, 2013
Female (Left) and Male (Right) Lesser Scaups
Female (Left) and Male (Right) Lesser Scaups | Source

A Duck With What?

The Lesser Scaup is a lovely migratory duck that I’d like to spend some time on today. There are two scaups, both the greater and the lesser, the lesser being much more common around the country. They are also a little harder to tell apart, but it is possible, though not from a distance, unless one has a spotting scope or a camera with a good telephoto lens. It is said that this is the most abundant diving duck in North America.

If one runs into a duck in fresh water with a bright blue bill, feet and legs, this is your scaup. If you see the male, his head and neck are purplish black, rather than greenish black gloss, which will be the Greater Scaup. You could see this duck, so bear the differences in mind.

Windblown Scaups
Windblown Scaups | Source

Wintering Range and Migration

The wintering range is fairly great. There is a coastal belt around 200 miles wide, that runs from Washington state right around the perimeter of the US, up to about Connecticut and Rhode Island. It also runs up the Mississippi River up to southern Illinois, or thereabouts.

During migration, these scaups will nearly blanket the entire US. Breeding range covers eastern Alaska, the Canadian provinces of Yukon and Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It also includes the states of eastern Alaska, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Minnesota.

I'm Calling You...

Being on the quiet side these ducks have a “scaup, scaup, scaup” call, but they aren’t good at enunciation. The female has a harsher voice than the male, and she will sometimes make a “krrrr-rrrr” sound. The male coos and does a low, whistling “whee-ooo.”

Pairs tend to form on wintering grounds and these ducks trend to make an appearance just after the ice melts from the ponds. Since it wasn’t a bad winter here in Oklahoma, I noticed them in February.

These Kids Are Almost an Item
These Kids Are Almost an Item | Source

The Courtship

The male displays to the female by bowing his head to her, then opens his bill wide and “scaups” at her. Sometimes she will swim around him with her head held high and lifts her bill with short, jerky movements. I have seen him rapidly flick his wings and tail, and tosses his head back to touch his tail, and he will do his whistling “whee-ooo.” If she likes him, the female will follow and he slowly swims off with his head turned away from her. They will perform the deed by signaling one another by dipping their bills in the water.

Male Lesser Scaup
Male Lesser Scaup | Source

Nesting Behavior

Though slow nesters, they also have a longer breeding season than most of the other ducks. They will then disappear from the lakes and nest in smaller ponds. Most of the nests are built on land, but if they choose to build off the water, they’ll be attached to reeds and rushes. The nest is fairly simple, a hollow in the ground lined with down and grass.

The female builds the nest and she lays 6-15 eggs, and incubates for around 25 days. The male deserts her, and he hangs out with the rest of the males on larger bodies of water. The males molt and become flightless during this period.

A Lovely Couple
A Lovely Couple | Source

Ducklings and Flight

Meanwhile, the blue-billed ducklings travel in tight groups while feeding with their mother. If they feel threatened, they still swim as a group. They will resort to diving only if they feel that they are in imminent danger, and only then will they separate as a group. When the danger has passed, they will then regroup, and continue on their merry way. After about ten weeks, the little ones get their primaries and begin flight instruction. Surprisingly, the female molts and becomes flightless.

The scaups run along the water’s surface to gain enough momentum to establish flight. They can fly in the vicinity of 50 mph, which seems faster, as they perform erratic twists and turns. They make whistling sounds with their wings as they fly, and are relatively low flyers, unless it is time for migration. Then they become the high flyers.

Male Lesser Scaup
Male Lesser Scaup | Source

Diet and Challenges

As a diving duck, its legs are placed toward the rear of the body. Therefore, it isn’t good on land, and keeps to the water. They eat mostly vegetable matter, but also will indulge in worms, snails, mollusks, tiny fish, and nymphs and larvae of water insects.

They are also challenged by both natural enemies, as well as ditching and draining of their habitat. Accidents, parasites and disease also take their toll, as well as fishing nets and lines. Since they are divers, they are also prone to lead poisoning, which still is available.


Can You Help Us?

Do your part while fishing, please. Dispose of tangled line properly and if you choose to hunt ducks, kindly use steel shot to make it a little more fair for these birds. Remember, that if you choose lead shot, you are still killing ducks, even while not on the water. Lead poisoning is a very slow, and painful death. Don’t try it at home.


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    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Petrakis, the ducks cannot fly only during the molting season,which is when they get new feathers. It is always around the time when the young ones hatch. They will be able to fly the rest of the year. Hope this answer clarifies things a little better for you. Thanks for stopping by.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Question. If mother duck can't fly? How did she get there? Or for that matter anywhere?

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      It is good that mom is flightless for the early part, as she may get frustrated and leave the little ones to their own devices. Many times, dad is gone, so he is pretty useless for raising the ducklings.

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 

      6 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Once again I loved your photos. I have seen these ducks from a distance and wondered what they were. Thanks for all the great info. It is very interesting that just when the ducklings need to try out their wings, the mother is rendered flightless! Voted Up, Interesting and Beautiful

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, kashmir. I had these ducks around for a couple of months during the winter, so I was able to learn a few things about them, strictly through my own visuals.

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi aviannovice This is all great and interesting information within this well written hub. Some of this information i did not know, thanks for helping me learn more about these ducks. Loved all the beautiful photos of these ducks, well done !

      Vote up and more !!!

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, mhatter. I had them around me for a couple of months.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      This article was entertaining as well as informative.


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