Mystery Bird: Lesser Scaup, Aythya affinis

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[Mystery bird] Lesser Scaup, Aythya affinis, photographed at Hermann Park, Houston, Texas. [I will identify this bird for you tomorrow]
Image: Joseph Kennedy, 14 March 2008 [larger view].
Nikon D200, Kowa 883 telescope TSN-PZ camera eyepiece 1/350s f/8.0 at 1000.0mm iso400.

Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:
I wish that I could see the tail of this bird. But even without that, we can tell that we’re looking at a diving duck: the head and body are clad in great monotone swaths rather than the intricate patterns of a dabbler.
The low degree of contrast between the back and side and the bright white face tell us we’re dealing with a scaup. I go through phases: sometimes the scaup are easy for me (I think!), other times I find them more challenging than I did when was a kid birder lo these many decades ago. This individual makes me feel confident (and we all know that before which goeth pride!).
This bird’s nape is high and straight, rising to a noticeable notch just behind the highest point of the crown, which itself is decidedly behind the bird’s eye. The crown and forehead then slope steeply from the peak of the crown to the base of the bill. The bill is not noticeably huge, or slipper- or shovel-shaped, and the black at the tip seems to be restricted to the nail, not reaching to the sides.
All that should make this a Lesser Scaup.
Review all mystery birds to date.


About GrrlScientist

grrlscientist is the pseudonym of an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist who writes about evolution, ethology, and ecology, especially in birds. After earning a degree in microbiology (thesis focus: virology) and working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she earned her PhD in zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied the molecular correlates of testosterone and behaviour in white-crowned sparrows. She then worked a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she studied the speciation and distribution of lories and other parrots throughout the South Pacific Islands. A discarded scientist, she returned to her roots: writing. Formerly hosted by The Guardian (UK), she now writes about science for Forbes and for the non-profit think tank, the Evolution Institute and she writes podcasts for BirdNote Radio. An avid lifelong birder and aviculturist, she lives with a flock of songbirds and parrots somewhere in Germany.
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0 Responses to Mystery Bird: Lesser Scaup, Aythya affinis

  1. RM says:

    greater scaup hen

  2. Bob O'H says:

    Is it a scaup or a female tufted duck? Looking at my (European) guide, the head shape looks wrong for a scaup. How about a compromise – a scaup/tufted duck hybrid?
    Whatever it is, I just love that bill.

  3. RM says:

    Looking at my Sibley, it could be a tufted. I have definitely seen tufted ducks in South Carolina, but I don’t know if they make it to Texas or not.
    The cheek patch is pretty big to be a lesser, IMO.

  4. Hilary says:

    Female Lesser Scaup. The white patch around the bill does look bigger than the one in Sibley, but I think her head is turned slightly toward three-quarters view, making more of it than would show in a full profile.

  5. aedis says:

    Tough call between female Scaup and female Lesser Scaup.
    I’m going to go for Lesser Scaup, purely on the slightly peaked crown.
    A female Tufted Duck would have a narrower bill and more black on tip.

  6. The Ridger says:

    Female Lesser Scaup.

  7. bobk says:

    Greater Scaup.
    Ah yes – the great Scaup uncertainty. I think there are few better test of a birders confidence (if not competence) than the Scaup scalp – is it peaked or not. For those of you like myself who try to ID just out of range birds without a aid of a spotting scope I have settled on a non-empirical solution: if you know both Lesser and Greater Scaups exist in the area and, over the years, you have seen many Scaups, then you can be confident (statistically) that you have seen both. I don’t know what the ABA’s rule is here, but I’ve claimed both for my life list.

  8. bobk says:

    Oops. I meant Lesser.

  9. Eric says:

    Overall body color and head matches very closely with the photos of female Greater Scaup i have in a book by Artie Morris

  10. JohnB says:

    female Lesser Scaup, based on the shape of the head, which is typically more peaked than the greater

  11. Tom R says:

    female lesser scaup. The forehead to culm angle is sharper – what I classically think of as lesser. From this angle the bill appears ‘heavier’ which is the general jiz of a greater but careful examination shows an almost even depth – again lesser. The general head shape is more nicely rounded – lesser and not the ‘blocky/sqauarish’ head of a greater.