From 14-16 May this year a male Scaup was reported from the north end of Brodick Bay. There were good views of this diving duck from the putting green and from Fisherman’s Walk. This occasional winter visitor to Arran seemed to be lingering.
Scaup are diving ducks with a resemblance to tufted ducks. Males have black heads, shoulder and breast, white flanks, grey back and a black tail. Females are brown, with characteristic white patches around the base of the bill. In flight they show white patches along the length of the trailing edge of the wing. The features of the male in Brodick Bay were captured well in Colin Cowley’s photograph.
It is a circumpolar species. In Europe it is called Scaup and in North America Greater Scaup or colloquially “bluebill”. It spends the summer months breeding in northern most reaches of Europe, Siberia, Alaska, and northern Canada. During the winter, it migrates south to the coasts of Europe, North America and Japan.
Scaup dive to obtain food, which they eat on the surface. They mainly eat shellfish, aquatic plants, and aquatic insects. With the Scaup’s webbed feet and weight, it can dive up to 6 metres (20 ft) and can stay submerged for up to a minute, allowing it to reach food sources that are unobtainable to some other diving duck.
Information from the BTO Wetlands Bird Survey suggest a decline in the numbers of Scaup wintering in UK waters. Climate change may be enabling these birds to winter further north. Other factors may be involved. For example in the 1970s it is estimated than 30,000 Scaup used to winter in the Firth of Forth feeding on waste grain from the breweries and distilleries until tighter sewage regulations stopped the discharges.
The name Scaup? One suggestion is that it comes from scalp another name for “bed of shellfish”. First known use of the word is in 1797.