Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Lesser Scaup - Aythya affinis
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General Comments The Lesser Scaup winters over most of the state, though primarily near the coast, with numbers being smaller the farther inland. As mentioned under Greater Scaup, identification of the two scaup species can be difficult, but the Lesser Scaup can be seen on most winter outings to the coastal and Tidewater areas, and often inland as well. Though wintering numbers of this abundant duck are much lower in North Carolina than in states to our south, hundreds can at times be seen near the coast. However, it is far outnumbered on inland waters by the Ring-necked Duck. Its favored habitats are sounds and bays (including the embayed portions of the Pamlico and Neuse rivers); however, it also occurs on impoundments, lakes, and ponds, even fairly small ones, both coastally and inland. Unlike in South Carolina, where large rafts can be seen on the inshore ocean in winter, such a phenomenon is surprisingly scarce in NC.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S5N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident. Fairly common to locally common, and reasonably widespread, along the entire coast and in the Tidewater zone, being most numerous on bays/sounds; farther inland, mostly uncommon, but can be very scarce over much of the area where suitable lakes are absent. Mainly mid-Oct to early May; has rarely continued in summer. Peak counts: 10,526, Camp Lejeune (Onslow), 15 Dec 2001; 9,000, Stumpy Point Bay (Dare), 30 Dec 2017; well inland -- 346, Southern Pines, 5 Mar 1978.
Piedmont Winter visitor or local winter resident. Uncommon to fairly common, at least locally; more numerous in the eastern Piedmont than in the western portion; rare to very uncommon over portions of the province where lakes are scarce. Tends to be more numerous as a migrant, in fall and in spring, than in midwinter. Mainly late Oct to late Apr; has rarely continued in summer. Peak counts: 1,000, Roanoke Rapids Lake, 8 Nov 1978; 490, Lake Crabtree (Wake), 28 Jan 2014.
Mountains Transient and winter visitor. Uncommon transient and winter visitor, mainly to lower elevations in the southern mountains; mostly mid-Oct to late Apr. Unusual was a male that summered at a pond in Foscoe (Watauga), seen from 6 Mar into Sep 2019. Peak counts: 150 at Lake Julian (Buncombe), 13 Mar 2102.
Finding Tips Though not abundant in NC, the species is reasonably widespread, particularly in the Tidewater area. You should be able to find some on most ferries across Pamlico Sound and adjacent embayed rivers, as well as on most coastal impoundments and lakes, especially the three Pea Island ponds). Inland, it is most readily seen on Brier Creek Reservoir (Wake), where it winters with Greater Scaups.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-02], LeGrand[2019-11-04], LeGrand[2018-06-09]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.