Greater (Aythya marila) and lesser scaup (A. affinis) have protracted spring migrations. Migrants may still be present on southern breeding areas when the annual Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Surveys (WBPHS) are being conducted. Understanding factors affecting the chronology and rate of spring migration is important for the interpretation of data from annual population surveys. We describe the general temporal pattern of scaup numbers in south-central North Dakota in spring, examine the relationships between scaup numbers and measures of local water conditions and spring temperatures, and assess timing of the WBPHS relative to numbers of scaup occurring in the study area in late May. Scaup were counted weekly on a 95-km, 400-m-wide transect from late March through May, 1957-1999. Average numbers of scaup per count were positively associated with numbers of seasonal, semipermanent, and total ponds. Average minimum daily ambient temperatures showed a trend of increasing temperatures over the 43 years, and dates of peak scaup counts became progressively earlier. Weeks of early migration usually had higher temperatures than weeks of delayed migration. The relationship between temperature and timing of migration was strongest during the second and third weeks of April, which is A# 1 week before numbers peak (median date = 19 Apr). Trends in sex and pair ratios were not consistent among years. Counts in late May-early June indicated considerable annual variability in the magnitude of late migrants. Scaup numbers during this period seemed to stabilize in only 5 of the 19 years when 2 or more surveys were conducted after the WBPHS. These findings corroborate concerns regarding the accuracy of the WBPHS for representing breeding populations of scaup and the possibility of double-counting scaup in some years.
Additional publication details
Scaup migration patterns in North Dakota relative to temperatures and water conditions