Bird Watch – New Zealand scaup

NZ Scaup. Photo courtesy of Steve Attwood.

NZ Scaup. Photo courtesy of Steve Attwood.

If you’re looking for a ‘rubber duckie’ in the wild, the New Zealand scaup (Aythya novaeseelandiae) – papango in Māori – is about as close as you’re likely to get. They may not be yellow but with their distinctive squat, high-headed shape, they mimic the popular rubber bath toy very well.

 

These scaup were photographed by keen Christchurch bird photographer, Steve Attwood at Harts Creek, a tributary of Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere, an important breeding ground for papango.

 

Scaup are the most common of the small New Zealand ducks and are still found in many parts of the country. They are diving birds and therefore prefer large bodies of clear water, where they can dive to a depth of 2-3 metres in search of freshwater snails and aquatic plants.

 

They are quite distinctive ducks. The males are black with a purplish, greenish sheen on their heads. The rest of the body is brownish-black and they have a distinctive yellow eye. The coloured sheen to their feathers is much more obvious during breeding season. The female is a drabber shade of brown and has brown eyes. In breeding plumage, females have a small white band on their foreheads, above the beak.

 

They are a highly social species and may best in close proximity to each other. There is an elaborate courtship display involving the male flinging his head backwards to lie along the back with the bill pointing upward. He glides toward the female, his body flat, while whistling softly.

 

While the female is nesting, the male stays close by. Indeed, his solitary presence near the shoreline during breeding season is a sure sign a nesting female.