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Hooded Merganser

Lophodytes cucullatus

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The hooded merganser is a diving duck with a distinctive fan-like hood on the back of the head. It lives on freshwater lakes, wooded wetlands and tidal shallows throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed from autumn through spring.

Appearance:

  • Males and females have different patterns and coloring
  • Males are mostly black with rusty brown sides. They have a white, fan-like hood; a white wing patch; small, yellow eyes; and a white breast with two black bars on either side.
  • Females are dark gray or brown with a dusky brown head and chest. Their hood is cinnamon-colored.
  • Long, serrated bill. Males have a black bill and females have a brownish bill.
  • Immature males look similar to females
  • Can raise or lower its hood
  • Grows to 13-19 inches with a wingspan of about 26 inches. Females are smaller than males.

Habitat:

  • Lives on freshwater ponds, lakes and wooded swamps in autumn and spring
  • In winter, can also be found on shallow fresh and brackish waters on the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal creeks and rivers

Range:

  • Visits the Bay watershed mostly in spring and autumn
  • There are some local winter and summer populations in the region

Feeding:

  • Eats a variety of aquatic creatures, including fish, insects, crabs and crayfish
  • Usually feeds during the day
  • Dives underwater to look for and reach its prey, which it captures with its serrated bill
  • Has an extremely muscular gizzard that allows it to digest the hard exoskeletons of some shellfish

Predators:

  • Humans hunt hooded mergansers

Flight:

  • Takes off by running across the water’s surface and flapping its wings
  • In flight, all mergansers hold their bill, head, body and tail straight
  • Lands on the water by “skiing” across the surface to slow down

Voice:

  • Low, croaking grunt

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Breeds mostly in Canada and the Midwest
  • Some hooded mergansers breed locally in parts of Maryland in March and April
  • Nests in tree cavities or artificial nest boxes near water
  • Females lay 5-10 glossy, white eggs that hatch in about 33 days. The male abandons the female after she has finished laying her eggs.
  • If the female is disturbed while incubating her eggs, she will abandon her nest. Females can often lay a new clutch if predators eat her first one.
  • One day after her ducklings hatch, the female leads them out of the nest to the nearest water body. The ducklings are able to dive for food and feed themselves.
  • Ducklings fledge by the time they are 10 weeks old

Other Facts:

  • The smallest of the three types of mergansers that live in North America
  • Although they are strong swimmers, hooded mergansers are awkward on land because their legs are located far back on their body
  • One of the quickest diving ducks to jump from the water when startled
  • During migration, hooded mergansers prefer to follow waterways rather than flying
  • Has special transparent eyelids that act like goggles to protect its eyes while looking for prey underwater

Sources and Additional Information:

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