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.
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.
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
Visits the Bay watershed mostly in spring and autumn
There are some local winter and summer populations in the region
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
Humans hunt hooded mergansers
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
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
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:
Chesapeake Bay: Nature of the Estuary, A Field Guide by Christopher P. White