The Hooded Merganser Ducks of the Pacific Northwest
The hooded merganser is a very small duck, the smallest of the three merganser species that can be found on the BC Coastal Region
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 iris, 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.
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, (she commonly lays more eggs in the nests of other Hooded Mergansers and those of other cavity-nesting ducks.) 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. At around 70 days the young birds can fly.
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 on the south coast of BC in the winter months.