The lesser scaup, also known as a bluebill, is a medium-sized duck that breeds mostly in Canada but migrates to the Chesapeake Bay for the winter.
They are a diving duck, which means they find food by flipping their body horizontally and nose-diving into the water. Mollusks, plant material and aquatic insects are all on the menu for the lesser scaup, and much desired after a long flight from up north. Lesser scaups are fairly active foragers and can be seen diving and resurfacing frequently, looking for the perfect snack to help regain their strength.
The lesser scaup is a close relative of the greater scaup, which also breeds up north and migrates to the Bay. You would have to examine these two ducks closely to tell the difference between them. The primary feathers on the greater scaups are mostly white but on the lesser scaup they're mostly gray. The primary feathers are the longer feather closer to the tip of a bird’s wings. Greater scaups also have a much wider nail, which is the black tip at the end of a bill (like a fingernail). Lesser scaups are slightly smaller.
Another difference between the two ducks is the regions in which they migrate to. Both lesser and greater scaups can be found in the Chesapeake Bay but lesser scaups are more likely to be found further inland in freshwater lakes and ponds.
Both species, however, are in decline. They are not in danger of going extinct but the ducks have been unable to rebound from a decline in the 1980’s and 1990’s due to food shortages and habitat loss in both breeding and overwintering grounds.
The restoration and conservation of wetlands and forests across the watershed will surely benefit this beautiful, blue-billed duck as well as the other prominent waterfowl that visit our region.
Have you been lucky enough to spot a lesser or greater scaup? Let us know in the comments!