Lesser scaup (Bluebills)

Aythya affinis

Lesser scaup

Lesser scaup (also called bluebills) are a favorite diving duck of Minnesota waterfowl hunters. They're found on big water, typically lakes and deep wetlands, and aren't shy about approaching hunting decoys. In recent years, scaup numbers have declined dramatically.

Identification

General description: With a body shaped like a bulb, lesser scaup (or bluebills) are fast fliers found near larger bodies of water, where they sometimes sit in flocks of more than 10,000. Drakes (males) have dark, purple-colored heads, white sides and yellow eyes; hens (females) have dark brown backs, brown sides, white bellies and a white ring around their bills. Both sexes can be distinguished from other diving ducks by the bright white wing feathers.

Length: About 17 inches.

Weight: 1 3/4 pounds.

Color: Gray, white and dark brown.

Sounds: Females have a high-pitched purr.

Reproduction

Lesser scaup mate in the spring and typically lay eggs (eight to 10 per nest) in late May or early June. Nests are scrapes in grassy fields or on floating mats of vegetation. Young scaup can fully fly by September.

Food

Aquatic insects, wild rice and other vegetation.

Predators

Mink, raccoons, red-tailed hawks, skunk, fox, owls.

Range MapHabitat and range

In Minnesota, lesser scaup are found primarily in the northern half of the state and migrate late in the fall. In addition, lesser scaup nest in the boreal forests of northern and central Canada. In the fall, they fly to the coastal marshes of Texas, Louisiana and Florida, where they spend the winter. Many also winter in the Gulf of Mexico.

Population and management

The lesser scaup population has fallen in recent years. The reason is unclear, and is currently being studied by waterfowl biologists. With a decreased population, Minnesota waterfowl hunters have had poor hunting. In 1999, Minnesota hunters harvested 18,200 lesser scaup.

Fun facts

Hunters sometimes mistake lesser scaup for canvasbacks, which are considerably larger and have lighter-colored backs.