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A close-up shot of a duck with a dark head and light blue beak
Information icon Lesser scaup. Photo by Heath Hagy, USFWS.

Lesser scaup

Aythya marila

The lesser scaup is a medium-bodied diving duck, meaning they feed by diving under the surface of deep water to find their food. Males have a dark emerald to black head and a mostly gray to white body. Females are mostly brown on their body and have a dark brown head with a white patch at the base of the bill. Scaup have evolved a bill structure perfect for catching invertebrates swimming in the water column. Interestingly, lesser scaup have a significantly delayed spring migration compared to most other species, and they typically do not begin nesting until mid-summer.

Conservation Status

Low concern. Although continentally abundant, population declines in the 1990s have resulted in restrictive hunting seasons for lesser scaup, and there continues to be some concern about population declines.


Lesser scaup is one of the most widespread duck species in North America. This species breeds throughout Alaska and across parts of northern and central Canada down through the Prairie Pothole Region. It will spend its winters mostly along the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf coasts, with some inland areas in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Mexico receiving substantial use.


In the summer, they nest in grasslands, parklands, and the tundra near water. Most nests occur in upland areas, but some individual build nests over water similar to canvasback. In winter, lesser scaup gather in coastal bays and estuaries, lakes and reservoirs, and managed wetlands. It is not unusual to see this species in groups or “rafts” that are composed of thousands of individuals during the winter. In some areas, lesser scaup are very common on aquaculture ponds. National wildlife refuges are limited in their capacity to manage for diving ducks, but it is assumed that management of seasonal emergent wetlands, promotion of submersed aquatic vegetation, and promulgation of sanctuary conditions benefits this species.


Lesser scaup are omnivores, consuming both plant and animal matter, but historically they probably consumed primarily animal matter, and still do if available. Preferred animal matter include amphipods, mussels, clams, snails, and other aquatic invertebrates.

How you can help

You can help this species and other waterfowl by purchasing a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. The Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp is a nonprofit organization that supports promotion, preservation, sales, and better understanding of the Federal Duck Stamp’s conservation mission.

Subject matter experts

Federal Register notices

The following Federal Register documents were automatically gathered by searching the Federal Register Official API with this species’ scientific name ordered by relevance. You can conduct your own search on the Federal Register website.

  • We're sorry but an error occurred. Visit the Federal Register to conduct your own search.

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