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Bird Sightings : Hebrides : Greater Scaup

Hebrides bird sightings - Greater Scaup
The bird on the left is a tufted duck, the other two are both male greater scaup,
note the grey pattern on the back of the adult in the centre, at this time there
were also two lesser scaup on Coot loch.


Greater Scaup

(Scaup, Scaup Duck , Bluebill)

Aythya marila

Gaelic: Lach-mhara

Photograph © Debbie Bozkurt
Coot Loch - Benbecula - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
18th February, 2007

"Saw 2 males (scaup) on Coot Loch and 2 lesser scaup, amongst about 300 birds on a very small out of the way Loch, needle in a hay stack!...."


Our Scaup photographs :

Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Game: ID the Scaup!


  • Scaup
  • Aythya marila
  • Gaelic: Lach-mhara
  • UK: AMBER LIST. 1-5 birds breed in the UK (rarest breeding duck). 9200 birds winter RSPB
  • Scarce Breeder, Passage/Winter Visitor Mainly in winter, from late October to March.
  • Breeding: Nests on ground by lakes, bogs ( tundra) across Arctic & subarctic Northern America, Europe, Asia
  • Winters: Forms flocks in coastal waters. South of breeding range to South Europe, China, South US
  • Habitat: Tundra lakes (migration open lakes, coasts)
  • Diet: Omnivorous. Feeds by diving & swimming underwater. (Molluscs - winter) Othe shellfish, crustaceans & small insects. Some plant material
  • Diving duck (42-51cm length). Resembles tufted duck. Male: black head with green sheen. Black shoulder & breast, white flanks, grey back, black tail. White rump. Females brown with white band at base of bill. Flight shows white patches along trailing edge of the wing. Blue bill. Yellow eyes.
  • Max recorded age 14yrs
  • Listen to a Scaup (RSPB site) Usually silent when not breeding
  • Similar birds: Tufted Duck (common - black back), Ring-necked Duck (rare - black back, strong white band around bill), Lesser Scaup (rare - whitish back)


Gatherings of 30,000 birds which represented 80-90% of the Scaup population wintering in the UK, would feed on the abundant marine-worms in the Firth of Forth. Waste products from the breweries and distilleries made the sewage outflow a rich environment for the worms. When Edinburgh got a new treatment works the birds ceased to gather there.
(See Birds Britannica)

The name Scaup comes from a Scottish word scalp which means mussel beds (favourite food of the Scaup duck).



Greater Scaup in the Western Isles

Rare breeder, scarce passage (mostly spring), winter visitor
3 Western Isles breeding records (as at 2001)













(Source: Outer Hebrides Birds Checklist)




Differences between Greater and Lesser Scaup

I asked John Dempsey about distinguishing between the lesser scaup and scaup (greater):

"Lesser Scaup are tricky - and some folk down here think I have got it wrong on my two pix (on John's web site), and they may well be right! but basically they are smaller than Common Scaup, a lot less broad in the beam, with a smaller black nail on the bill. They ride higher in the water than most diving ducks as they're so small, and the head should show an angled rear crown, with a little peak. The bill should be concave and not as big as on a Scaup, and the white flanks shouldn't be the glaring white of a Common Scaup. The wing pattern is different too - but you have to get a good view to see that. The bird I watched was about the same size, or smaller than nearby Tufted Ducks, but the weather was pretty lousy... "

See those photographs at John's blog




" Lessers have a very small amount of black at the tip, and a more concave shape bill, most so at the base.... the highest point of head is at the rear, and much more sloped at the front.....males flank feathers have fine grey vermiculations giving a clouded greyish appearance. (rear flank striping usually courser and visable.).... upper parts darker than greater scaup and more coarsely vermiculated...they sit higher in the water.."

based on Neill Hunt's notes



Terry Fountain sent us in several photographs taken of ducks on Coot Loch on the 18th March, 2007 including lesser scaup and scaup have a look if you would like the challenge of telling one from the other...




Male and female ducks and their collective nouns

Some people use the word duck only for an adult female and drake for an adult male whilst others say hen and drake.

Waterfowl collective nouns (From WIKI):
waterfowl (on water) A raft
waterfowl A bunch of waterfowl
waterfowl (less than 30) A knob
ducks, swimming A paddling of ducks
waterfowl A plump
ducks, idle in water A raft of ducks
ducks, diving A dopping of ducks
ducks, on ground A badelynge of ducks
ducks, flying A flight, plump, or team of ducks
ducks A brace, bunch, flock, skein, sord, string, brace, flush


Other local bird photographs

Sources of information for the bird sightings section

Debbie's online photo album

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