When it comes to identifying scaup, a common duck seen in winter in southeast Michigan, I’m zero for two in the past two months.
I’ve photographed and identified the duck as a Greater Scaup, only to be gently reminded the bird I found was a Lesser Scaup.
They can be challenging to identify.
We have two species of scaup in our area, Greater and Lesser, that are called the Oreo ducks for their coloring: black on the ends, white in the middle.
And to add to the confusion of identification: they’re often seen together on the Detroit River, in Lake Erie, as well as our inland lakes and ponds.
Usually anywhere from 1/4 mile to 1/2 mile away. Which means you want to have a spotting scope to view the birds.
What’s the Difference Between the Two Scaups?
The distinguishing features between the two species can be confusing, but there are key details that make identification easier (notice I said easier, not easy).
- The Greater Scaup has a more rounded head and shorter neck than the Lesser Scaup
- In sunlight, and at the right angle, the Greater Scaup shows a green iridescence while the Lesser Scaup can show green and purple iridescence.
The Greater Scaup never shows purple iridescence.
Given it was overcast and snowing, there was no way I saw any iridescence on the bird I photographed.
- Another way to distinguish the two species: Greater Scaup is a bigger bird. Which is helpful when the two species are near each other.
But not when you only see one bird, which is what I saw this week.
Why I Don’t Feel Too Bad About My Identification
It seems the bird I’ve chosen as my photo of the week—seen 20 feet away with about 50 Mallards at Gallup Pond in Ann Arbor, Michigan—caused a lot of discussion among our local birders.
Some thought it was a Greater Scaup, others said it was a Lesser Scaup. I identified it as a Greater Scaup when I first looked at my photos.
But checked with the president of our local Audubon chapter to get confirmation.
They got back to me quickly, explaining this particular bird had been seen by several birders in the past week.
And after discussion among the birders, as well as the state-level birding expert, they agreed it was a Lesser Scaup.
Me? I’m not too concerned my identification was off.
I’ll leave it to the experts to tell me what the bird is.
I’m glad I was able to see the bird up close.