Hooded Merganser

Lophodytes cucullatus
Range Map

The male Hooded Merganser is a stunning sight, with his coal black and snow-white crest raised to full, his golden eyes blazing. I never tire of their company. The females are not as flamboyant, but are lovely in their own right.

These birds evolved to nest in tree cavities, but have adapted to using man-made nest boxes to raise their families. Sometimes females will lay their eggs in another hen’s nest, leaving the host bird with many extra mouths to feed. A typical clutch of eggs is 12 to 13, but sometimes families of over forty have been seen. Such large families are certainly products of this brood parasitism.

Hooded Mergansers are the smallest of the three merganser species found in North America. The others (Common and Red-Breasted Mergansers) range worldwide in temperate zones, but the Hooded makes its home only in North America.

There are two distinct populations of Hooded Merganser, though no subspecies are recognised by modern science (they are monotypic). In the eastern USA, these birds are resident from Louisiana north to Wisconsin, and east to Georgia, then north to New England and Maine. Some of these eastern birds migrate in spring to breed in southern Canada from Manitoba to the Maritime Provinces. In Winter, some of this eastern population will travel to Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

In the west, these ducks are resident in British Columbia (Canada), western Montana, northern Idaho, Washington and Oregon. In winter, some of these birds migrate south as far as California, southern Nevada, and Arizona.

Most of my meetings with Hooded Mergansers have all been in the west, with birds on their winter range. I’ve been fortunate enough to have them spend winters in the creeks near my home, and we always find them during our Christmas Bird Counts. More recently, I found them in Wyoming, when I watched a Barrow’s Goldeneye attempt to the hen from a mated pair of these birds.

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