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Greater Scaup


Greater scaup breed on the tundra and in the Boreal Forest zones from Iceland across northern Scandinavia, northern Russia, northern Siberia and the western North American Arctic. It is estimated that three-quarters of the North American population breeds in Alaska. Greater scaup nest predominantly on islands in large lakes and lay an average of 9 eggs.


Latin: Aythya marila

Average length: M 18.6", F 17"

Average weight: M 2.32 lbs., F 2.15 lbs.


Greater and lesser scaup are often found together, but the larger size of the greater scaup is very obvious. Male greater scaup also have a larger, more rounded head than male lesser scaup. Male greater scaup tend to have a glossy black head tinted green, although head color can vary and is not a reliable distinguishing feature. The neck, breast and upper mantle are glossy black, and the flanks and belly are white, sometimes with gray vermiculations on the lower flanks. The back is whitish with fine black vermiculations, and the tail and upper- and under-tail coverts are black. The wing has a broad white speculum, with white extending into the primaries. This contrasts with lesser scaup, in which the white is restricted to the speculum. The bill is a light blue-gray with a black nail, both of which are larger in greater scaup than lesser scaup. The legs and feet are gray and the iris is yellow. Female greater scaup are brown with white oval patches around their bills. The female's bill is similar to that of the male, but slightly duller, and the legs and feet are gray.

Greater Scaup Range Map

Food Habits

Greater scaup dive to feed on aquatic plants and animals. In coastal areas, mollusks constitute the principle diet items. In freshwater habitats, seeds, leaves, stems, roots and tubers of aquatic plants (sedges, pondweeds, muskgrass, wild celery, etc.) are important items.


Greater and lesser scaup are counted together, because they are difficult to distinguish during aerial surveys. Greater scaup are estimated to constitute roughly 11 percent of the continental scaup population. Scaup populations have steadily declined since the 1980s. Contaminants, lower female survival and reduced recruitment due to changes in breeding habitat or food resources are thought to be potential factors contributing to the decline.

Migration and Wintering

Greater scaup make extensive flights across the boreal forests of Canada prior to reaching their wintering grounds along the Atlantic coast and the Great Lakes, or migrate offshore from Alaska to their wintering grounds along the Pacific Coast. Greater scaup occasionally are observed during winter in Central America and the Caribbean.