Mergus cucullatus

DescriptionHooded Merganser are seen on a whale watching boat tour with Eagle Wing Tours in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada on Vancouver Island.

Measure 16-19 feet (41–48 cm). A small duck with a slender pointed bill. Male has white, fan-shaped, black-bordered crest, blackish body with dull rusty flanks, and white breast with two black stripes down side. Female is dull gray-brown, with warmer brown head and crest. Both sexes show white wing patch in flight.

Habitat

Breeds on wooded ponds, lakes, and rivers; winters in coastal marshes and inlets.

Nesting

Between 8 and 12 white eggs in a down-lined cup in a natural tree cavity or sometimes in a fallen hollow log.

Range

Breeds from southern Alaska south to Oregon and Montana, and from Manitoba and Nova Scotia south to Arkansas and northern Alabama. Winters near coast from British Columbia south to California and from New England south to Florida and Texas.

Voice

Hoarse grunts and chatters.

Discussion

The smallest of our mergansers, hooded are most often seen along rivers and in estuaries during the fall and winter. They are usually found in pairs or in flocks of up to a dozen; when startled, they are among the fastest-flying of our ducks. Males perform a beautiful courtship display and, once mated, swim energetically around the female in further ritual displays. Hooded mergansers feed chiefly on small fish, which they pursue in long, rapid, underwater dives, but also take small frogs, newts, tadpoles, and aquatic insects.