The opinion, derived from WILSON'S account of the Scaup Duck, that it is met with only along our sea coasts, in bays, or in the mouths of rivers, as far as the tide extends, is incorrect. Had WILSON resided in the Western Country, or seen our large lakes and broad rivers during late autumn, winter, or early spring, he would have had ample opportunities of observing thousands of this species, on the Ohio, the Missouri, and the Mississippi, from Pittsburg to New Orleans. I have shot a good number of Scaup Ducks on all these rivers, where I have observed them to arrive early in October, and whence they depart between the 1st of March and the middle of April. I have not, however, seen any in small creeks, lagoons, or ponds. When they arrive on the western waters, they are seen in flocks of from fifteen to twenty individuals; but in a few weeks these flocks are joined by others, for which reason the species is named in Kentucky the "Flocking Fowl." They are, however, seldom seen close together while on the water, and they rarely associate with other birds.
The Scaup Duck seems to float less lightly than it really does, its body being comparatively flat. It moves fast, frequently sipping the water, as if to ascertain whether its favourite food be in it. Then turning its head and glancing on either side to assure itself of security, down it dives with all the agility of a Merganser, and remains a considerable time below. On emerging, it shakes its head, raises the hind part of its body, opens its short and rather curved wings, after a few flaps replaces them, and again dives in search of food. Should any person appear when it emerges, it swims off to a considerable distance, watches every movement of the intruder, and finally either returns to its former place, or flies away.
These birds are fond of large eddies below projecting points of land, but frequently dive in search of food at a considerable distance from them. When in eddies they may be approached and shot with less difficulty than when in any other situation. If wounded only, they are not easily secured; in fact, you need not go after them, for by diving, fluttering along the surface, and cutting backward and forward, they generally elude pursuit. Between Louisville and Shippingport, on the Kentucky side of the Ohio, the shores are from ten to fifteen feet high, and rather abrupt when the waters are at their ordinary level. The Scaup Ducks are fond of diving for food along this place, and there, by coming directly upon them unseen, till you are almost over them, you may have the very best opportunities of procuring them. They are not worth shooting, however, unless for sport or examination, for their flesh is generally tough and rather fishy in flavour. Indeed I know none, excepting what is called an Epicure, who could relish a Scaup Duck.
They appear to experience some difficulty in getting on wing, and assist themselves on all occasions, either by meeting the current or fronting the wind, while they also use their broad feet as helps. When danger is near, they frequently, however, prefer diving, which they find as effectual a means of security as flying. As they usually feed at some distance from each other, it is amusing to see them go off, as they emerge from the water in succession, and to watch them when they collect again, and when, after flying for a long time in circles, now high then low over the water, they all realight. These habits, and the toughness of their sinewy bodies, render it rather difficult to shoot them. Although flat-billed, they dive to a considerable depth, and when they have reached the bottom, no doubt furrow the mud, in the manner of the Shoveller (Anas clypeata), although the latter performs this action while floating, on the surface, with its head and neck alone submersed, as it swims over the shallows.
The food of the Scaup Duck I have found to consist of small fry, crayfishes, and a mixture of such grasses as here and there grow along the beds of our rivers. I never found any portions of testaceous mollusca in the gizzards of those obtained on our western waters, although even there they might meet with abundance of these animals.
When these birds are travelling, their flight is steady, rather laborious, but greatly protracted. The whistling of their wings is heard at a considerable distance when they are passing over head. At this time they usually move in a broad front, sometimes in a continuous line. When disturbed, they fly straight forward for awhile, with less velocity than when travelling, and, if within proper distance, are easily shot. At times their notes are shrill, but at others hoarse and guttural. They are, however, rarely heard during the day, and indeed, like many other species, these birds are partly nocturnal.
At the approach of spring the Drakes pay their addresses to the females, before they set out on their journey. At that period the males become more active and lively, bowing their heads, opening their broad bills, and uttering a kind of quack, which to the listener seems produced by wind in their stomach, but notwithstanding, appears to delight their chosen females.
The Scaup Duck varies materially as to size at different ages. Some wounded individuals which I kept, and which were birds of the first year, were much larger and heavier at the end of a year; and I agree with my learned friend NUTTALL, that specimens may be procured measuring from sixteen and a half to eighteen, nineteen, or twenty inches in length.
On the Atlantic coast I have met with this species from the Gulf of Mexico to the Bay of Fundy, and my friend THOMAS MACCULLOCH has told me that they are not unfrequent at Pictou in Nova Scotia. Farther north I saw none; and their breeding places are yet unknown to me.
SCAUP DUCK, Anas Marila, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. viii. p. 84.
FULIGULA MARILA, Scaup Duck, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer., vol. ii.p. 456.
SCAUP DUCK, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 437.
SCAUP DUCK, Fuligula Marila, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iii. p. 226; vol. v.p. 614.
Male, 16 1/2, 29. Female, 16 1/2, 28.
Abundant during autumn on the Ohio and its tributaries, as well as those of the Missouri and the Mississippi. Rather common also along the Middle Atlantic Districts. Breeds far north.
Bill as long as the head, deeper than broad at the base, enlarged and flattened towards the end, which is rounded, the frontal angles narrow and pointed. Upper mandible with the dorsal line at first straight and declinate, then slightly concave, along the unguis curved, the ridge broad at the base, narrowed at the middle, enlarged and convex towards the end, the sides nearly erect at the base, becoming more and more declinate and convex, the edges curved upwards, with about forty lamellae, the unguis small and oblong. Nostrils sub-medial, oblong, rather large, pervious, near the ridge, in an oblong groove with a soft membrane. Lower mandible flat, with the angle very long and rather narrow, the dorsal line very short and straight, the erect edges with about sixty lamellae on the upper edge, however, the lamellae are more numerous,--the unguis broadly elliptical.
Head of moderate size. Eyes small. Neck of moderate length, rather thick. Body comparatively short, compact, and depressed. Wings small. Feet very short, strong, placed rather fir behind; tarsus very short, compressed, anteriorly with a series of broad scutella, externally of which is another of smaller, the rest reticulated with angular scales. Hind toe small, with a free membrane beneath; anterior toes double the length of the tarsus, united by reticulated membranes having a sinus at their free margins, the outer and inner with loose somewhat lobed marginal membranes, all obliquely scutellate above, the third and fourth about equal and longest. Claws small, that of first toe very small and curved, of middle toe largest, with an inner thin edge, of the rest very slender and pointed.
Plumage dense, soft, blended. Feathers of the head and neck short and velvety, those of the hind head a little elongated. Wings shortish, narrow, pointed; primary quills curved, strong, tapering, the first longest, the second very little shorter, the rest rapidly graduated; secondary broad and rounded, the inner elongated and tapering. Tail very short, much rounded, of fourteen feathers.
Bill light greyish-blue, the unguis blackish. Iris yellow. Feet greyish-blue, the webs and claws black. The head, the whole neck, and the fore part of the back and breast black, the head and neck glossed with purple and green, the rest tinged with brown. Hind part of the back, rump, abdomen, and upper and lower tail-coverts brownish-black. Middle of the back, scapulars, inner secondaries, anterior part of abdomen, and sides greyish-white, beautifully marked with undulating black lines. Middle of the breast white, wings light brownish-grey. Alula, primaries at the base and end, and the greater part of secondaries, brownish-black; the speculum on the latter white.
Length to end of tail 16 1/2 inches, to end of claws 18; extent of wings 29; wing from flexure 8 1/4; tail 2 1/4; bill along the back 1 10/12, along the edge of lower mandible 2; tarsus 1 1/4; middle toe 2 2/12, its claw (3 1/2)/12. Weight 1 lb. 6 oz.
The female agrees with the male in the characters of the plumage, and in the colours of the bare parts; but those of the former differ considerably. The head, neck, and fore part of the back and breast, are umber brown; and there is a broad patch of white along the fore part of the forehead. The upper parts in general are brownish-black, the middle of the back and the scapulars undulated with whitish dots and bars. The primary quills are greyish in the middle, and the speculum is white, but of less extent than in the male. The greater part of the breast and abdomen is white; the sides and parts under the tail umber brown.
Length 16 1/2 inches, extent of wings 28. Weight 1 lb. 6 oz.
Male. Breadth of mouth 8 twelfths; its roof broadly concave, with a median prominent line, on which are four papillae, and at the anterior part two very short prominent lines; on the upper mandible on each side are 42 lamellae, not projecting beyond the margin, and about 90 on the lower mandible. Tongue 1 inch 8 twelfths long, fleshy, with a deep groove above, a thin-edged series of lamellae on each side, the tip somewhat semicircular and thin-edged. OEsophagus 8 inches long, its width from 5 twelfths to 4 twelfths, at the lower part of the neck enlarged to 6 twelfths, on entering the thorax contracted to 3 twelfths; the proventriculus oblong, 10 twelfths in breadth. The stomach is a very muscular gizzard, of a transversely elliptical form, placed obliquely, 1 inch 8 twelfths long, 2 inches 3 twelfths broad; the right muscle 10 twelfths thick, the left 9 twelfths; the grinding surfaces of the epithelium longitudinally rugous, and of a brownish-red colour. Lobes of the liver 1 1/2 inches and 1 inch 1 twelfth long; gall-bladder oblong, 1 inch long by 4 twelfths. The intestine makes 16 turns; its length is 4 feet 7 inches, its width 4 twelfths; duodenal fold 3 inches; coeca 4 inches 9 twelfths long, only 1 1/2 twelfths in breadth, narrower at the base and at the extremity; rectum 3 inches 9 twelfths long, 3 1/2 twelfths wide.
Trachea 6 1/4 inches long, a little flattened, carinate behind at the upper part, from 5 1/4 twelfths to 3 1/4 twelfths in breadth; its rings moderately firm, unless at the back part, where they are cartilaginous; 108 in number, with about 8 more incorporated with the tympanum, which is very large, of an irregular form, its projection on the right side having a semicircular carina, and a great portion of it being membranous; its breadth 1 inch, its greatest height 1 inch 2 twelfths. Bronchi short, one of 25 half rings, the other of 30. Muscles as usual in this family.
For more on this species, see its entry in the Birds of North America Field Guide.