Hooded Merganser Ducks

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Male Hooded Merganser, Vancouver Island, BC
Male Hooded Merganser, Vancouver Island, BC

The hooded merganser is a very small duck, the smallest of the three merganser species that can be found in the Pacific Northwest.

Male Hooded Mergansers have a large white crest surrounded by black. The head, neck, and back are all black, and the chest, breast, and belly are white. Black lines can be seen on the sides and flanks. The tail is brown. The bill is black and the eyes, legs, and feet are all yellow.

Female hooded mergansers have a grayish brown head and neck with a reddish brown crest. Their neck, chest, sides, and flanks are gray. Their back and tail are brown. The upper bill is black with an orange edge and the lower bill is yellow. The legs and feet are greenish in color and the iris is brown.

Female Hooded Merganser, Vancouver Island, BC
Female Hooded Merganser, Vancouver Island, BC

Hooded Mergansers in the west breed in Alaska, British Columbia, and Alberta, Hooded Mergansers prefer wetland areas surrounded by forests.  First year females will migrate in the first year but will be just looking at possible nest sites for the following year, they start breeding at the age of two. Pair bonds last from winter until incubation begins.  Hooded Mergansers nest in cavities 3 to 15 meters up a tree. The nest is made from materials found in the cavity and lined with down. The female will lay up to 12 eggs, incubation is by the female alone and lasts for up to 41 days, but averages 33 days. When incubation starts, the male leaves the nesting area.  24 hours after hatching, the young jump to the ground and head to the water. They can already swim well and quickly learn to find their own food. The female tends them and leads them to food-rich areas for a few weeks, but abandons them.

Hooded mergansers winter along the Pacific coast as well as on the east coast. They are expert divers and feed on small fish, crayfish, crustaceans, and aquatic insects. These beautiful birds are very plentiful in the pacific northwest during the winter months.

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