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A photo of a Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus), male
Hooded Merganser, Male

Hooded Merganser

Lophodytes cucullatus

The Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) is a small, fish-eating duck with a remarkable appearance. It is the only extant species in the genus Lophodytes. Both sexes boast crests that can be raised or lowered, but it is the male's breeding plumage that is particularly striking with its bold patterns and colors. Despite having a sawbill, it is not classified as a typical merganser. This species is the second-smallest merganser, with only the smew being smaller, and is unique in being native solely to North America.

Identification Tips

Adult females display a greyish-brown body with a narrow white patch over the lower breast and belly, and a light reddish-brown crest. Nonbreeding males resemble females but have yellow eyes compared to the female's brown. Breeding males have mainly black dorsal areas with white markings and a black head, neck, and breast adorned with large white patches on the crest. Their lower flanks are a rich reddish-brown, and the breast and undersides are predominantly white. Both sexes have narrow white stripes along their tertial wing feathers, visible as longitudinal white stripes along the lower back when at rest.

Habitat

Hooded Mergansers have a preference for small bodies of water like ponds and small estuaries with abundant emergent aquatic vegetation. They also inhabit larger wetlands, impoundments, flooded timber, and rivers, and can be found on both fresh and brackish water bodies.

Distribution

This species is a short-distance migrant, wintering in the United States where conditions allow for ice-free waters. They have two major year-round ranges: one in the eastern United States and a smaller one from Washington state to northern Idaho. They also breed in regions from Missouri to southern Canada and from Nova Scotia to eastern North Dakota and Saskatchewan.

Behaviour

Hooded Mergansers form monogamous pairs until the female has selected a nesting cavity and laid her clutch. The male then departs, leaving the female to incubate and care for the brood. They are cavity nesters, often using cavities in dead trees or artificial nest boxes.

Breeding

Breeding occurs from the end of February to the end of June, depending on the region. Females lay a clutch of 7-15 eggs and begin incubation with the last egg, leading to synchronous hatching. Hatchlings are precocial and leave the nest within 24 hours, yet stay with the female for warmth and protection.

Diet and Feeding

The Hooded Merganser is a diving predator that primarily feeds on fish, making up 44 to 81% of its diet. It also consumes aquatic insects and other invertebrates like crabs and crayfish.

Conservation Status

The Hooded Merganser is currently listed as Least Concern. Past population declines have been linked to large-scale deforestation, but recent timber management is believed to be increasing suitable habitat. They are susceptible to pollution, which can either directly poison them or reduce their prey populations.

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Hooded Merganser Fun Facts

Did you know?
Hooded Merganser are known to be brood parasites, laying their eggs in other species nests.

Hooded Mergansers on Birda

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