Let’s Do Ducks


In celebration of the University of Oregon’s – WC’s alma mater – success in the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments, let’s have a gander at some real ducks that are moving through in early spring migration.

Common Goldeneye Drake

Common Goldeneye Drake

Common Goldeneye is a circumpolar, boreal diving duck, breeding in Alaska and Canada in North America. It’s closely related to Barrow’s Goldeneye and Bufflehead, and hybridizes with both. In the field, the male shows that distinctive roundish white spot on the face, in contract to the Barrow’s Goldeneye’s white crescent.

Common Goldeneye Hen

Common Goldeneye Hen

It can be difficult to tell female Common and Barrow’s Goldeneyes apart. In the West, the female Common has a two-toned bill, black at the base with a yellowish tip; the Barrow’s female, at least in the West, usually has an all-yellow bill. The amount of white feathers in the secondaries is also different,but WC rarely finds that to be a useful field mark.

Lesser Scaup Drake

Lesser Scaup Drake

You can give yourself a headache trying to tell a Greater Scaup from a Lesser Scaup. The size difference is too subtle to be useful in the field. Generally, Lesser Scaup show a “pointier” head, as opposed to the Greater’s rounded head. But, again generalizing, habitat is your best bet. If you are within100 miles from salt water, it odds-on a Greater Scaup. If you are further away from tidewater, it’s more likely to be a Lesser.

Lesser Scaup Hen

Lesser Scaup Hen

If male Greater and Lesser Scaup are hard to tell apart; females are nearly impossible. In flight, the extent of the trailing white edge is a useful field mark, but these are very fast-flying ducks and the white can be hard to see and judge. Where you see the bird and who the female is hanging around are the most reliable tools.

All these photos were taken at Swan Falls Reservoir in southwestern Idaho; all the ducks are likely migrants, although Lesser Scaup do breed in Idaho.

Go Ducks!

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2 thoughts on “Let’s Do Ducks

  1. I’m sorry I’m confused. You said: “If you are more than 100 miles from salt water, it odds-on a Greater Scaup. If you are further away from tidewater, it’s more likely to be a Lesser.” So did you mean Greater Scaup more likely near saltwater, Lessert more likely near fresh?

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