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Home > New Zealand ecology > Native ducks > New Zealand scaup     



The New Zealand scaup Aythya novaeseelandiae, also known as black teal, and to Maori as papango, is endemic to New Zealand, and is a member of the Anatidae family of the Anseriformes order of ducks, geese and swans.

Scaup were first identified at Dusky Sound in Fiordland by Forster who accompanied Cook in his second voyage in 1773.

They are thinly spread on clear-water lakes and lagoons near the sea over the North and South Islands.  According to Birdlife International, there are an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 birds.

It is fragmented throughout the North Island, more commonly found, sometimes in flocks on the shores of Lake Taupo and the Rotorua Lakes.  Scaup are more widely spread in the west of the South Island, including sub-alpine lakes.

The scaup is the smallest New Zealand duck, 40cm long and weighing 650g.

It declined after European mid-19th century settlement. With complete protection since 1934 the population has recovered and is increasing.

Scaup are listed as 'least concern' in the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, and 'not threatened' in the New Zealand Threat Classification System.

New Zealand scaup may have colonised in New Zealand from the Northern Hemisphere.  Aythya novaeseelandiae is related to the Palearic tufted duck Aythya fuligula, and the Holarctic true scaups, A. marila and A. affinis (Johnsgard 1965).

Scaup are social birds, gathering in large groups on clear-water lagoons and lakes, and often nesting in proximity to one another.

Above: A male (top) and female (below) New Zealand scaup Aythya novaeseelandiae. Photo Reese, Crown Copyright © Department of Conservation.
Click on image to view larger & duck slideshow

The male performs an impressive display of courtship, spreading his body flat across the water towards the female, flinging his head back over his back with his bill pointing up, and softly whistling.

Male scaup are mainly blackish brown to black on the body, with the head and neck also black but with slight purple reflections when viewed from the front, and green reflections when seen from behind.

The female has lighter brown colour on the body and head.  From April until December a white band appears on the forehead.

The male has a yellow iris, but the female's is dark brown. The male has a white speculum, whereas the female's is dull white.

Nests are close to the water's edge amongst flax roots and fallen blades, so well hidden that the female may be completely covered with vegetation.

The only way to find a nest is to follow the path of the female when she leaves the water.  The male stays nearby during incubation, so a sole male near the shoreline is an indication of a nest location.

When alarmed, chicks paddle out towards the centre of the lake, and the adults distract attention near the shore.

Nests are made from grasses, and lined with down.  A clutch of five to eight eggs are laid sometime during the summer from October to January.  A second clutch may be laid in December if the first fails.  The female incubates for nearly one month.

Below: A male (left) and female (right) New Zealand scaup Aythya novaeseelandiae at Queenstown, 1971.  Photos: Peter Morrison, Crown Copyright © Department of Conservation.
Click on images to view larger & duck slideshow

The only true diving duck .....

The scaup is New Zealand's only true diving duck, staying under water for up to twenty seconds.

Its' unproportionally huge webbed feet that are further back on its body than other ducks, make it a very adept underwater swimmer down to a depth of three metres, but hinder its movement on land.

Chicks just one day old have been seen diving to the same depth as their parents.

Some New Zealand ducks do not avoid danger by flying away. Scaup tend to dive and swim beneath the water to avoid it.

Hunters in the late 1800s talked about the ease of killing scaup.  Like blue duck, they were friendly, unafraid and oblivious to men, guns and dogs, and tasty to eat - familiar circumstances for many indigenous New Zealand birds which are extinct or endangered.  Dogs drove them ashore from the water, where they were sitting ducks.

Some New Zealand ducks do not avoid danger by flying away. Scaup tend to dive to avoid it.

As with most New Zealand ducks, the ability of ducklings to dive provides an effective method of escape before they learn to fly.

While diving it's legs seem to be pivoted and moving in all directions, being used sideways, and so high they appear to be above it's back.

It dives for small fish, and feeds on the lake floor on freshwater snails, other invertebrates and aquatic plants.  Scaup also eat surface insects.

Scaup most often dive directly to the lake bed for food, but will also swim just above the bottom without touching it.


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