Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the lesser scaup.

Differences in appearance which distinguish lesser from greater scaup are subtle, and it takes a well-trained eye to tell one from the other when they are not seen together. Winter range separates the two species, with greater scaup more common in saltwater habitats, and it is the lesser that we find here.

Lesser scaup are the most abundant diving duck in North America. Wintering farther south than other diving ducks, they can be found on lakes, ponds, reservoirs and wetland areas across coastal and central areas of the United States to as far south as South America.

The breeding range of lesser scaup extends across the prairie pothole regions of the United States and Canada, through the boreal forests and into the arctic tundra.

They are reluctant migrants, staying north until water bodies freeze over and force them to leave in fall, and are also one of the last to head north in spring. Lesser scaup are one of the Oreo ducks, with males glossy black on the head, front and rear and white in the middle. Although the male’s back is gray-lined, it is the white sides that stand out when viewing a group of ducks on the water. Females are a rich brown color and have a white patch at the base of the bill. Both sexes have tall, peaked heads, a trait which sets them apart from the more round-headed greater scaup.

The lesser scaup is one of the colorful duck species identified during the recent Christmas Bird Count here. Duck watching is a great antidote to winter cabin fever. 

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