Lophodytes cucullatus

Status: Least Concern

The Hooded Merganser is a duck about 40-49 cm long. It is the smallest Merganser in North America. Males are a combination of black, white and reddish brown. The head, neck and back are black, the rump is gray, and the tail is dark grayish brown. The chest, breast and belly are white. There are two irregular black marks on the sides of the breast. The sides and flanks are tawny or reddish brown.

The males have white, fan-like crests atop their black heads. When the crest is standing straight up, you can see a white patch bordered by black. When the crest is down, there is a white stripe extending backwards from the eye. The feathers of the females and non-breeding males are dusky brown throughout, lighter on the underparts and a richer reddish-brown in the crest. They also have some white striping on the wings. Females have some orange coloration at the base of the bill and on the lower mandible. The female hooded Merganser's eyes are a dull brown hue, while the males' eyes are bright yellow. A long, narrow, serrated bill is common among all Mergansers.

A Hooded Merganser is the only Merganser that lives (breeds and winters) exclusively in North America. They live throughout the U.S. and southern Canada. They breed in areas in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, to the east of the Mississippi River, and in scattered areas in the southern parts of Canada. Hooded Mergansers spend their winters among the coasts of California and Delaware through Texas. Many live around the Great Lakes in wooded areas.

Mergansers like quiet, shallow, clear-water pools that have sandy or cobblestone bottoms. They prefer ponds that are near or surrounded by deciduous (trees that lose their leaves in the winter) woods, river bottom lands, small forest pools, millponds, swamps and beaver ponds. Some have been reported to live in human-made boxes in grasslands or in non-forested wetlands. Hooded Mergansers have a difficult time finding food in turbulent water, so calm, clear water is highest on their list of habitat requirements.

Mergansers eat in clear aquatic habitats, such as flooded forests, forested ponds, streams and rivers. They usually eat crustaceans, aquatic insects and fish.

Hooded Mergansers reproduce in November or December. The nesting site is chosen by the female. The nest usually is a cavity in a tree 4-15 feet off the ground, but the preferred nest is one already built and abandoned. Seven to fifteen eggs are laid by the female, and once they are all laid, incubation begins. The female incubates the eggs for 1 month, during which time the male abandons the nest. When incubating, the female loses 8-16% of her weight. Twenty-four hours after the ducklings hatch, they leave the nest, never to return.

Written by Prachi, a student at Warner Elementary School

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