Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)
Description: 16-19″ (41-48 cm) ADULT MALE Has large crest that can be flattened or fanned, presenting a large, gleaming white patch on otherwise dark head. Bill is dark and note beady yellow eye. Back is mainly dark and breast is white, marked with two black lines on sides, separating breast from otherwise orange-brown flanks. Eclipse male is similar to adult female, but with duller colors; retains bright eye. ADULT FEMALE Orange-buff head with long, shaggy crest. Plumage is otherwise mainly gray-brown, darkest on back; belly is white. Eye is dark. JUVENILE Similar to adult female.
Voice: Hooded Mergansers are usually silent, but they call during courtship and around nest sites. A courting male makes a deep, rolling sound like the call of a pickerel frog, earning it the nickname of “frog-duck” in Georgia. Females give a hoarse gack call during courtship. When females call in flight or to newly hatched ducklings, they use a rough croo-croo-crook similar to that of many sea ducks.
Habitat: Hooded Mergansers breed in forested wetlands throughout the eastern half of North America and the Pacific Northwest, and may also nest in treeless wetlands where people have put up nest boxes. They are most common in forests around the Great Lakes. Their habitat ranges from spruce-fir forest in the Northwest to pine-hardwood forest and cottonwood-elder riparian forest in the Midwest, to oak-cypress-tupelo forest in the Southeast. Families of newly hatched ducklings forage in shallow water such as marshes, small lakes, ponds, beaver wetlands, swamps, and forested rivers—and rest on exposed rocks, logs, or sandbars. They winter in these habitats as well as on shallow freshwater and brackish bays, estuaries, and tidal creeks, where they often concentrate along the edge of ice. During migration they stop in a wider range of habitats, including open waters of rivers and lakes, brackish coastal bays, tidal creeks, and seasonally flooded forest.
Nesting: The female makes a shallow bowl in the material already present in the cavity, gradually adding down from her belly after she starts laying eggs. The female chooses the nest site, and may start scouting for next year’s tree cavity at the end of each breeding season. Nest cavities can be in live or dead trees and are usually close to water. Cavities are typically 10–50 feet off the ground, up to about 90 feet. Hooded Mergansers nest readily in boxes, preferring those with wood shavings or nest material from previous uses. They prefer cavities with 3–5 inch openings.
- Along with Wood Ducks and other cavity-nesting ducks, Hooded Mergansers often lay their eggs in other females’ nests. This is called “brood parasitism” and is similar to the practice of Brown-headed Cowbirds, except that the ducks only lay eggs in nests of their own species. Female Hooded Mergansers can lay up to about 13 eggs in a clutch, but nests have been found with up to 44 eggs in them.
- Hooded Mergansers find their prey underwater by sight. They can actually change the refractive properties of their eyes to improve their underwater vision. In addition, they have an extra eyelid, called a “nictitating membrane,” which is transparent and helps protect the eye during swimming, like a pair of goggles.
- Hooded Merganser ducklings leave their nest cavity within 24 hours of hatching. First, their mother checks the area around the nest and calls to the nestlings from ground level. From inside the nest, the little fluffballs scramble up to the entrance hole and then flutter to the ground, which may be 50 feet or more below them. In some cases they have to walk half a mile or more with their mother to the nearest body of water.
- On the bird family tree, Hooded Mergansers (genus Lophodytes) lie between goldeneyes (Bucephala) and the other North American mergansers (Mergus). They share many courtship behaviors and calls with both of those groups.
- The Hooded Merganser is the second-smallest of the six living species of mergansers (only the Smew of Eurasia is smaller) and is the only one restricted to North America.
- The oldest Hooded Merganser on record was 14 years, 6 months old.
Resource material provided by:
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology/ http://www.allaboutbirds.com