Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers
Hooded Mergansers
Photo by: 
Rick Jordahl

Whenever we spot ducks with white plumage visible, we naturally wish to take a closer look. Winter ducks make for great sightings, especially those that stand out from the crowd, such as the Hooded Merganser ( Lophodytes cucullatus ).

This small, active diver is often seen on winter outings, and is a favorite for many of us. They feed by diving and catching small fish, tadpoles, crustaceans and insects in active underwater pursuits. Merganser’s bills are unigue in that they have serrated edges for holding onto slippery fish.

Both male and female sport distinct crests on the back of their heads. At times of excitement or agitation the males exhibit their full, fan-shaped white crest, bordered in black, so memorable each time it is seen. Females are duller with a bushy brown crest.

Hoodies are one of our few cavity nesting ducks, thus their breeding habitat includes small wooded ponds and swamps in northern U.S and southern Canada.

The ‘hoodie’s’ bright yellow eye, distinct hood, and slender pointed bill are unmis- takable field marks. And when startled, the Hooded Mergan- ser is on of our fastest flying ducks. Often seen in pairs or small groups of up to a dozen, they are commonly seen with other species such as Common Goldeneyes.

Even while resting they retain an alert posture, ready for a feeding opportunity or any new challenge. Watch for winter Hooded Mergansers in small wooded ponds, rivers or estuaries. Once identified, you will never mistake a Hooded Merganser and they will likely become one of your favorites.

By Rick Jordahl