Lesser Scaup

Aythya affinis
A Lesser Scaup specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

When floating far out on the water, it can be difficult to separate the Lesser Scaup (16 1/2 inches) from its relative, the Greater Scaup (Aythya marila) (18 inches). Males of both species are medium-sized ducks with dark heads and chests, light backs and flanks, and dark tails. A closer look reveals that the Lesser Scaup has a peaked, purple-tinged head and light gray flanks (as opposed to the Greater Scaup, which has a flat-topped, green-tinged head and white flanks). The females of both species (both dark brown) are also difficult to separate, although the female Lesser Scaup tends to be slightly darker brown than the female of the other species. Both species also have blue bills, earning them the nickname “bluebill” with duck hunters. The Lesser Scaup breeds across much of western Canada and Alaska, with smaller breeding populations in the northern Great Plains, in northern portions of the Rocky Mountains, and in the Great Lakes region. Most Lesser Scaups migrate south in winter, when they may be found along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the U.S., in the Ohio River Valley, in the interior south and southwest, and south to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Lesser Scaup are also known to winter in Hawaii. Lesser Scaups breed on fresh or slightly brackish wetlands with marsh grasses. In winter, they may be found in large numbers on large lakes, bays, and reservoirs. Although they may be found in saltwater in winter, Lesser Scaup are somewhat less likely to be seen on the open ocean than the Greater Scaup. This species’ diet primarily consists of invertebrates, such as crustaceans, mollusks, and insects when available. One of several species of “diving ducks” in North America, Lesser Scaups may be observed submerging themselves to feed on invertebrates in the water or on the bottom. In winter, they may also be observed in flocks of many hundreds or thousands of birds on large bodies of water. This species is primarily active during the day.

DC Information

Common migrant and winter resident from September to May, seen in both fresh and salt water. Distinguished from the less common Greater Scaup by the greenish cast to the head and the slightly smaller size. The males of both species of Scaup have iridescent heads, the females brown.

Specimen Information

This bird is a male.
Date:  11/1/1928
Collected By:  Talbott Denmead
Locality:  Potomac River
Sex:  Male
Catalog ID:  310664

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalization

Sound from xeno-canto. XC66134 Aythya affinis (Lesser Scaup)