Greater Scaup

Hey guys, welcome back. Sticking with waterfowl today, we have another diving duck; the greater scaup. One of two scaup species in North America (the other is the lesser), greater scaup are diving ducks of the same genus as the redhead, ring-necked duck, and canvasback from the last post. They look extremely similar to the lesser scaup but there’s a few things you can use to help determine between the two, just keep in mind they aren’t always 100% reliable. One is head shape. The greater scaup typically has a rounder head than the slightly peaked head of the lesser. Sometimes the color of the iridescence can help too. Green for greater, purple for lesser, but that’s dependent on good light and, like I said, isn’t always reliable. Another clue is habitat. Greater scaup tend to stick more to larger bodies of water, and like saltwater more than lesser. But the first greater scaup I saw in Ohio were in habitat you’re more likely to find lessers in, so yeah. It’s tough. Head shape is probably the best thing to look for, but you need a decent look at the bird.

Greater Scaup5
A not-quite-breeding-plumage male and female greater scaup, Mentor Marsh, Mentor, OH

The two are so similar, in fact, that when using eBird, they actually have an entry for “greater/lesser scaup” in case you can’t determine which is which. The first ones I saw were in NYC, in Flushing Bay. I mentioned it last post as a place to reliably see canvasback in winter. Huge flocks of scaup can be seen out there. Often times there’s a mix of greaters and lessers. Here in Ohio, you can see both mixed in as well on Lake Erie and nearby waters in winter. Although I’ve seen far more lesser scaup in Ohio.

Greater Scaup Female1
Female greater scaup, East River, NYC, NY

Greater scaup are diving ducks, and according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are the only circumpolar diving duck which is pretty cool. They breed in the far north, right up near the pole, and so can be found throughout the northern latitudes across the globe. Come back next time when we look at another bird that can be hard to ID due to a lookalike; the sharp-shinned hawk. See you then.

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