119. Fuligula marila


Fuligula marila, (LINNAEUS).

Outer primaries with the outer web much darker than the inner; inner primaries with the outer web white, or much paler than the inner.

Axillaries white, or white mottled with brown at the tip.

Head not crested.

Bill uniform bluish, with only the nail black.

MALE :—Head, glossy black; back and scapulars regularly and distinctly vermiculated with black and grey.

FEMALE :—Head, reddish brown ; with a band of white or pale rufous, quite half an inch broad, encircling the base of the bill.


THE Scaup Duck is probably a rare winter visitor, and there are but few records of its occurrence in India.

Mr. Hume mentions having two specimens of this Duck in his collection, from Kashmir, but neither is now in the Hume Collection. Mr. A. G. Young informed Mr. Hume that he had shot this species in Kulu. Hodgson is said to have procured this Duck in Nepal, but there are no specimens in his collection, now in the British Museum, and his drawing of Fuligula nyroca appears to me to represent the Eastern White-eyed Duck and not a Scaup Duck as suggested by Mr. Hume. Colonel McMaster was of opinion that he observed the Scaup Duck in the Northern Circars, but he does not appear to have obtained a specimen.

Turning to more recent times, we find that Mr. R. N. Stoker shot no less than six specimens of the Scaup Duck in the Punjab, in the months of November, December, January and March. Five of these birds were shot in the Indus river, near Attock ; the sixth, in the Jubbee river, near Hasan Abdal. Mr. W. N. Chill obtained an adult female, in March, near Delhi, and Mr. J. D. Inverarity informs us, in the pages of the Bombay Natural History Society's Journal, that he observed this species at Panwell, near Bombay. It has also been recorded from Karachi by Mr. Murray. It is very probable that this Duck has been overlooked, and that it is less rare than is commonly supposed.

The Scaup Duck has an extremely wide range. It inhabits North America, Europe, Northern Africa, and the greater portion of, Northern and Central Asia, being found in summer up to the 70th degree of north latitude, and migrating south in winter. The Chinese race (F. mariloides) is thought to be a smaller and separable race by some authors, but it does not appear to me to be distinct.

The Scaup is essentially a maritime bird, except at the breeding season, when it withdraws some distance inland. Some Scaup Ducks, however, may occasionally be found on fresh water at all seasons of the year, but the majority must be looked for on the sea-coast.

The Scaup has hitherto been so rarely observed in India, that I cannot find a single remark about its habits there, and I must consequently glean an account of its mode of life from English writers. Seebohm observed this Duck in Northern Europe and also in Asia. He writes :— " The Scaup is most active when the sun shines from the north; that seems to be its favourite feeding-time; and then its loud harsh scream may be heard, as the drake calls to his mate to leave her eggs covered warmly up in a blanket of down, and to come away from her snug nest among the bilberries on the adjacent bank-side and join him on the lake, or perhaps have a swing down the river to the delta to pick up anything that may be left on the strand at low tide. Of all the cries of the Ducks that have come under my notice, I think that of the Scaup is the most discordant. None of them are very musical, perhaps; but if you imagine a man with an exceptionally harsh, hoarse voice screaming out the word scaup at the top of his voice, some idea of the note of this Duck may be formed. It is said that when this harsh note is uttered, the opening of the bill is accompanied with a peculiar toss of the head. The ordinary alarm-note during flight is a grating sound like that made by the Tufted Duck.

"The Scaup is a very gregarious and sociable bird. In winter it is almost always seen in flocks, frequently associated with other Ducks, and in summer small parties are constantly seen coming to and going from their feeding-grounds. When alarmed they generally seek safety by diving, but if they find themselves obliged to take wing they get up from the water, one after another, with a great splash; but once fairly launched in the air, they seem to get away very quickly, though their wings are obliged to vibrate at a great speed and with considerable noise. They both swim and dive with perfect ease, and obtain much of their food under water.

" Although the Scaup, when cooked, is said to taste very fishy, it does not appear to be much of a fish-eater. Shellfish are its favourite food, but it varies this diet with crustaceans, the larvae of various insects, and with some vegetable matter. In confinement, Montagu found it remarkably tame, feeding eagerly at once on soaked bread, and after a few days on barley."

Mr. Cordeaux remarks : — " These Ducks appear to keep in pairs, male and female, throughout the winter, as we invariably find them in mixed flocks composed of about equal numbers of males and females. The Scaup swims high in the water. They are very expert divers, remaining immersed even longer than the Golden-eye ; and I have frequently known them to continue underneath from fifty to sixty seconds. In the evening, at dusk, and on moonlight nights, Scaups leave the water and fly up on the flats to feed; they are then often killed by our gunners who are lying in wait on the muds for Wigeon and Mallard."

Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey, in " The Fowler in Ireland," writes :—" When met with in twos and threes, Scaup are very tame, but if many are together they are wild and difficult of approach. By reason of their dark appearance on the water, and the large bulk of body exposed, no fowl show thicker at a distance, or scatter more when neared. They are most unsatisfactory birds to follow in every way. Their edible quality is far from good, and a successful shot is very seldom made at them."

Scaup Ducks appear, however, to be very often tame and easily approached. Mr. Abel Chapman has observed these birds closely, and I shall quote his interesting remarks. He tells us, in his "Bird-Life of the Borders," that—"the feeding-grounds of the Scaup are over rocks where sea-weed grows luxuriantly, and where they dive among the long, waving tangles in search of the various shell-fish and their spawn and the host of minute forms of marine life which abound in such places. Owing to this preference, their company is often confined all through the winter to certain localities—usually about the harbour entrance, or a rocky bay adjoining the open sea—hence they are less frequently met with than the Golden-eyes, which are scattered in odd pairs all over the sandy channels of the estuary. . . .

"Besides the places where, as above indicated, the main bodies of the resident Scaup Ducks take up their winter quarters, one frequently meets with small bunches of half a dozen or so inside harbour, especially about the "scaps," or mussel-beds (whence probably their name), and even on the edge of the ooze, where they occasionally vary their shell-fish diet with a feed of sea-grass. They always, however, keep afloat, or nearly so; it is very seldom one sees a Scaup or Golden-eye go on to dry land, nor (on the coast) have I ever heard either species utter any note.

" Scaup are the tamest of all the Duck tribe, and—exactly the reverse of the Golden-eye—they continue throughout the winter as tame and as easily approached as when they first arrive in October. On seeing a pack of them, one can shove the punt close in upon them, and then, if scattered, can wait securely till they arrange themselves nicely to receive the charge. Scaup are also among the toughest of birds and the most tenacious of life. At least half the cripples usually escape, and any that are captured alive it is all but impossible to kill. I have seen, when the bag was emptied on to the kitchen floor, a couple of Scaups, which had appeared as dead as door-nails, return to life and flutter vigorously round the room. Even when killed, however, they are of no value, being the strongest, nastiest, and most utterly uneatable Ducks I ever tried."

Regarding the nesting of the Scaup Duck, I must again quote from Seebohm's charming work. He writes :—" The Scaup generally selects some sloping bank, not far from water, but high enough from the edge to be secure from floods, on which to build her nest. It is always well concealed, and seldom to be found except by accidentally frightening off the sitting Duck. Sometimes it is placed under the cover of a willow or a juniper bush, but more often in the open, carefully hidden in some hole in the rough ground, surrounded by cranberries or bilberries struggling amidst tufts of sedge or cotton-grass. The hole is lined with dry broken sedge, and as the eggs are laid an accumulation of down is formed sufficient to keep them warm when the Duck leaves them to feed."

The Scaup lays from six to nine eggs. They are very similar in every way to the eggs of the Pochard, and measure from 2.4 to 2.7 in length and from 1.65 to 1.75 in breadth. The down is dark brown with pale or greyish white centres. The Scaup breeds in June and July.

The adult male has the whole head, neck, mantle and breast black, glossed with green and purple, according to the light in which the bird is held. The upper part of the abdomen is white; the lower part white, mottled and vermiculated with brown. The under tail-coverts are black. The sides of the body are white, very faintly vermiculated with grey. The axillaries are white ; the under wing-coverts, a mixture of brown and white. The scapulars are pale grey vermiculated with black ; the lower, concealed feathers, plain black. The back and the upper wing-coverts are dark brown vermiculated with white; the larger wing-coverts almost plain brown. The outer primaries have the inner web drab with a blackish tip, the outer web blackish. The inner primaries have the inner web drab, the outer white or very pale grey, both webs tipped with blackish. The outer secondaries are pure white with broad, black tips; the inner, brown; the innermost, speckled with white. The rump and the upper tail-coverts are black ; the tail dark ashy.

The adult female has a very broad white, or pale rufous, band completely encircling the bill, and a pale patch on the ear-coverts. The head, neck, mantle and breast are reddish brown, with the edges of the feathers more or less paler, and the feathers of the breast distinctly margined with white. The upper part of the abdomen is white; the lower part, and the under tail-coverts brown, mottled and vermiculated with greyish white. The axillaries are white and also a great part of the under wing-coverts. The sides of the body are rich brown, mottled and barred with greyish white. The back and the scapulars are dark brown, very irregularly and sparingly speckled and vermiculated with grey. The upper wing-coverts are plain brown. The quills of the wing, both primaries and secondaries, resemble those of the adult male, but the innermost secondaries are not speckled with white.

The male, in post-nuptial plumage, is said to resemble the female, but may be separated by the head and neck being darker, or blackish brown.

The young ducklings of both sexes change from down into a plumage which resembles closely that of the adult female, but the white parts round the base of the bill are suffused with brown. Young males may be found during the winter in all states of plumage intermediate between that of the male and that of the female. The early assumption of black feathers on the head, and of black and white vermiculations on the scapulars, serve to indicate the young male.

Male : length about 20; wing nearly 9 ; tail 2 1/2. Female : length about 18 ; wing 8 ; tail 2 1/4. In both sexes the bill is greyish blue or lead-colour; the irides yellow; the legs and feet greyish blue or leaden-grey. I cannot find any record of the weight of this Duck.

A Manual Of The Game Birds Of India(water Birds)
Oates, Eugene Wifliam. A manual of the game birds of India. Vol.2. 1899.
Title in Book: 
119. Fuligula marila
Spp Author: 
Book Author: 
Eugene William Oates
Page No: 
Common name: 
Scaup Duck
Greater Scaup
Aythya marila
Vol. 2
Term name: 

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