February 2019 Bird of the Month

Lesser Scaup Enjoying Hunter Spring’s Clear Water
©John Moran 01
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM, ISO 1250, 400mm, 1/2500, f/5.6

Why haven’t you seen this duckmore often, if it is one of the most abundant and widespread North American Ducks?First, Lesser Scaup form pairs in January to March and fly up to Canada’s unpopulated vast boreal forests—the warm, dry climatic zone just below the arctic, coniferous forests of pine, spruce, and fir. With the June thaw, peak nest building begins on the ground in new vegetation growth of at least 8 inches in upland habitats on islands near open water; often where gulls nest, too. 

Second, breeding takes time. Most broods incubate about a month, hatching in July and August. Within 24 hours, as soon as their natal down is dry, the mother leads the 8-10 ducklings from the nest to water. Weighing less than an ounce, they can dive, swim—feeding underwater on aquatic invertebrates, midges, and clam shrimp. After 2-5 weeks, the female leads her brood to join other females and ducklings, forming a crèche of 15-40 – up to 100 in all!  If potential predators approach, one or two females feign injury to distract them while the other females herd and protect the ducklings. At about 2 months old, the ducklings reach 66% of their adult weight, they molt and can fly. Females look after their broods for 2-5 weeks, then leave their young to further grow and migrate south on their own. 

For fall migration, Lesser Scaups, often the latest migrant ducks, gather in large protective groups of thousands to fly south.  They congregate on isolated wetlands, feeding to store energy as they wait for the low pressure system, leading to high-pressure systems. These drive southerly winds, which scaups ride to Florida and beyond. Scan the middle of the Lagoon and large lakes in winter, January-March, to distantly see thousands flying in huge flocks, landing together in large flotillas.

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society