National Geographic : 1915 Aug
LESSER SCAUP DUCK (Marila affinis) (See page 113). Range: Breeds from Yukon Valley, Alaska, and Fort Anderson, Mackenzie, south to central British Columbia, southern Montana, Colorado (casually), northern Iowa, northern Indiana, and western Lake Erie; winters from southern British Columbia, Nevada, Colorado, Lake Erie, and New Jersey south to the Bahamas, Lesser Antilles, and Panama. So closely do the two scaups or blue-bills resemble each other and so similar are their general habits that, except as regards their distribution, what is said of one applies almost equally well to the other. Like its congener, the lesser scaup is prone to associate in immense flocks, and on this account is sometimes called the "raft duck." Because of this habit and because it decoys well, this scaup is a favorite with gunners, and immense numbers are killed every season and find their way to the markets. Naturally they are nothing like so numerous as formerly though, everything considered, they still hold their own fairly well. I found the lesser scaup abundant in Florida and in the Gulf States in winter in the early seventies, and Chapman thinks they are more southern in their winter distribution than is the greater scaup. This species ranks among our best divers and its food habits are such as to insure it a warm welcome on the table of the epicure. It is very fond of wild rice, and in fall, when the crop of this grain ripens, frequents the inland lakes by thousands, and soon becomes fat on this nutritious diet. In protected waters it it surprising how soon this duck and its congener, the greater scaup, become tame. I have often approached flocks within half a gun shot that were apparently quite indifferent to my presence, and yet elsewhere the same individuals were wary enough to insure their own safety. No doubt the scaups would readily lend themselves to semi-domestication. RING-NECKED DUCK (Marila collaris) (See page 113). Range: Breeds from southern British Columbia to northern California, and from northern Alberta and Lake Winnipeg south to North Dakota, northern Iowa, and southern Wisconsin; winters from southern British Columbia, New Mexico, northern Texas, southern Illinois, and New Jersey south to Porto Rico and Gautemala. So much alike are the ring-neck and the lesser scaup in size, flight, and general appearance that it is only when the sportsman has bagged his bird that he can fully assure himself of its identity. Without doubt the ring-neck is much more uncommon in the Atlantic States than formerly, though Chapman states that in winter it is still abundant on the Florida fresh-water lakes. It is fairly numerous in migration in the far West in the marshes of large ponds and lakes, and still continues to breed in considerable numbers in Minnesota and North Dakota and perhaps elsewhere in our northern frontier States. I have never seen the ring neck in large flocks, so characteristic of the scaups, and usually have observed it either in small companies consisting exclusively of its own species, or associated in large flocks of other species, and such, I believe, has been the experience of most other observers. The ring-neck has no fondness for salt water, but is preeminently a fresh-water species. Like other members of the genus it is an excellent diver, and where wild celery is to be had, gets its share of the coveted grass. In point of excellence for the table it may be ranked with the two scaups, but does not equal the redhead or canvas-back. SPECTACLED EIDER (Arctonetta fischeri) (See page 117). Range: Breeds in Alaska from Point Barrow to mouth ofKuskokwim, and on the northern coast of Siberia west to mouth ofLena River; winters on Aleutian Islands. Nelson's observations showthis species tobe strictly limited to the salt marshes bordering the east coast ofBering Sea, and thus favoring the shallow, muddy, coast waters, which appear sodistasteful toStellar's eider. The same observer estimates that, all told, the spectacled eider does not occupy over 400 miles of coast line in the breeding season, while the width ofthe breeding ground will not exceed one or two miles. Writing aslong ago as1881, Nelson said ofthe struggle for existence the species was even then undergoing: "The species has to contend against thousands of shotguns inthe hands ofthe natives. The diminu tion in all the species of waterfowl breeding along the coast ismore and more marked each season, and whilethis may mean adesertion of one region for another in the case of the great majority ofgeese and ducks, yet for such narrowly-limited species as the spectacled eider,and toaless extent the emperor goose, this diminu tion is but the beginning of extermination; moreover, the present scarcity oflarge game along the coast is havinggreat effect incausing the natives to wage acon tinually increasing warfare uponthe feathered game." KING EIDER (Somateria spectabilis) (See page 117). Range: Breeds along coastof northern Siberia and Arctic coast ofAmerica from Icy Cape east to MelvilleIsland, Wellington Channel, northern Greenland, northwestern Hudson Bay, and northern Ungava; winters on Pacific coast from Aleutian Islands to Kodiak Island, inthe interior rarely to the Great Lakes, and from southern Greenland and Gulf ofSt. Lawrence south regularly toLong Island. The king eider is a residentofArctic realms, and visits the Great Lakes and our North Atlantic coast onlyinwinter. At Point Barrow, on the Arctic coast, Murdock found this the most abundant bird, but even there itoccurred chiefly as a migrant. The king eider is almost as much athome inthe water as afish, and is able to keep to the open seaduring the severest winter weather. Infact, prob ably the bulk of the species never migrate at all, or only move south asufficient distance to reach permanent open water. The bird feeds largely upon mussels, and as the beds are in deep water all its natatorial powers are brought into play in diving for its daily fare. It has actually been taken inthe gill nets offishermen in more than 150 feet of water,asEaton states, afact which sufficiently attests its skill and hardihood, more particularly as the water atthis season isicy cold. Like its relatives, it nestsamong rocks and bushes. The eiders are not so prolific as many of our smallerducks, and this one commonly lays only five or six eggs. The king eider is one ofthe species the Icelanders depend on tofurnish the harvest of down which is one ofthe important crops gathered by these northern people. The Icelanders are notthe only ones who are dependent on this and other eiders for the necessities of life,for asNelson tells us "the skins of all the eiders, but especially of this species and the Pacific eider, are used inmaking clothing by the Alaskan Eskimo, and the skin ofthe female, split down the back, with head, legs, and wings removed, is a very common article offoot-wear. Itisused inside of the sealskin boots, and is very comfortable inwinter."