Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Greater Scaup - Aythya marila
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General Comments Of our regular wintering waterfowl, the range and abundance of the Greater Scaup is more difficult to discern than others because of the similarity of appearance to the more numerous and widespread Lesser Scaup. Many observers are reluctant to "claim" Greater Scaups, especially inland, because of the belief that the species is mainly a coastal bird. Of course, the reverse also is a concern -- the over-reporting of Greater Scaups in some areas, especially distant birds flying over the ocean or sounds. Generally speaking, this duck favors large sounds/bays for wintering, but it also occurs in small numbers in coastal or Tidewater lakes and impoundments, as well as inland reservoirs, to a certain degree. However, there are no reliable wintering areas in the state, except perhaps on Pamlico Sound and at Brier Creek Reservoir (Wake).
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S2N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter visitor/resident. Uncommon along the northern half of the coast and in Tidewater; rare to uncommon, and somewhat erratic, along the southern half of the coast. A very rare to rare visitor to inland lakes in the province. Small numbers can be seen flying over the ocean, though birds seldom stop and forage there; most of the state's small wintering population occurs on Pamlico Sound, with smaller numbers in refuge ponds and impoundments, and on other bays and sounds. Mainly late Oct to mid-Apr. A male lingered at Pea Island NWR (Dare) until 4 Jun 2019, and a female lingered at that refuge until 12 Jun 2023. Peak counts: 4,500, in Stumpy Point Bay (Dare), 30 Dec 2016, is a remarkable number (if correct), as there are no other counts even approaching this number in recent years.
Piedmont Transient and winter visitor. Rare over most of the province, occurring almost solely on large lakes and reservoirs; seldom seen on ponds or other water bodies near forested areas. Between about 2000-2023, as many as 25-50 birds have spent much of the winter at either Brier Creek Reservoir or Lake Crabtree (Wake), though such over-wintering is most unusual inland. Normally, this species occurs at a given lake for only a brief stop-over of one to several days and is always unpredictable in its occurrence. Mostly early Nov to late Mar. A male along the Yadkin River Greenway (Wilkes) was remarkably late on 24-25 May 2016. Peak count: 80, Lake Hickory, 4 Feb 2014; 75, Lake Crabtree, 27 Feb 2016.
Mountains Transient and winter visitor. Rare in the southern mountains, from Buncombe southward. Casual in the northern mountains, where there are very few lakes suitable for the species; apparently just several records, from Watauga and Yancey. Most remarkable was a female found at Bass Lake in Blowing Rock (Watauga) on 25 Jun 2019 and noted there through the remainder of the summer season. Peak counts: 31, Lake Julian (Buncombe), 30 Jan 2014; 25, Ecusta Pond (Transylvania), 28 Feb 2024; 4, Cashiers (Jackson), 17 Dec 1985.
Finding Tips This can be a difficult bird to find and identify. Nowhere does it occur in NC in any numbers, and counts of more than about 50 birds are unusual and may represent misidentified Lesser Scaups. Some birds winter in Pamlico Sound near Swan Quarter and in other portions of Pamlico Sound, the lower Pamlico River, lower Neuse River, etc. A few can be found each fall and winter at Lake Mattamuskeet and the Pea Island ponds, the lower Cape Fear River, in flight over the ocean, and other sites. In recent years, small groups have wintered on Brier Creek Reservoir or Lake Crabtree near Raleigh, amid larger numbers of Lesser Scaups; this is actually the most reliable place in the state to see them at the present (2023) time. Though the species can be seen from some of the ferries, such as Swan Quarter, it can be difficult to study the birds from a moving boat to be 100% sure that you are looking at Greaters!
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Attribution LeGrand[2024-05-09], LeGrand[2023-10-20], LeGrand[2023-03-02]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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