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Species Guide
A photo of a Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus), male
Harlequin Duck, Male

Harlequin Duck

Histrionicus histrionicus

The Harlequin duck, a small sea duck, is a creature of striking plumage and theatrical presence. Its name, derived from the colorful Commedia dell'arte character, reflects the male's vivid breeding attire. Known also as lords and ladies, this species is adorned with names that evoke its unique appearance, such as painted duck, totem pole duck, rock duck, glacier duck, mountain duck, white-eyed diver, squeaker, and blue streak.

Identification Tips

The adult male Harlequin duck is a spectacle of color. With a dark slate blue head and neck, it boasts a distinctive white crescent before the eye, a round dot behind the eye, and a larger neck spot. A black crown stripe is flanked by chestnut patches. The body is a lighter slate blue with chestnut flanks, and a black-bordered white bar separates the breast from the sides. The tail is black and pointed, the speculum metallic blue, and the bill blue-grey with a reddish eye. Females are more subdued in brownish-grey, with three white head patches.


These ducks favor the tumultuous environments of cold, fast-moving streams for breeding, often found near pounding surf and white water.


Harlequin ducks breed in north-western and north-eastern North America, Greenland, Iceland, and eastern Russia. They winter near rocky shorelines along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and are rare migrants to western Europe.


Harlequin ducks are adept at feeding in challenging conditions, diving and swimming underwater in search of molluscs, crustaceans, and insects. Their dense plumage provides insulation and buoyancy, allowing them to bob to the surface effortlessly after diving.

Song & Calls

The Harlequin duck is sometimes referred to as a squeaker, hinting at the distinctive vocalizations that add to its character.


Monogamous pair bonds are formed during the winter mating season, often lasting multiple years. Males, however, are generally absent from parental care. Courtship begins early, with females typically finding success by their second year and males by their fourth winter. Both sexes exhibit mate choice and pair-bond defense, with fidelity being a notable trait, although they may seek new partners if a better option presents itself.

Similar Species

The Harlequin duck's unique plumage makes it quite distinguishable from other species, reducing the likelihood of confusion.

Diet and Feeding

Their diet consists of molluscs, crustaceans, and insects, foraged by skillful underwater swimming and diving, as well as dabbling.

Conservation status

The Harlequin duck is currently listed as Least Concern by the IUCN. However, the eastern North American population is declining and considered endangered, with habitat loss and oil spills being potential threats to their survival.

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Harlequin Duck Fun Facts

Did you know?
Harlequin Ducks can make a squeaking sound, this has given them the nickname 'Sea Mouse'.

Harlequin Ducks on Birda


More Ducks, Geese, Swans

A photo of a Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata) , male

Mandarin Duck

Aix galericulata
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