Living Bird Magazine
Hooded MerganserLophodytes cucullatus
- ORDER: Anseriformes
- FAMILY: Anatidae
“Hooded” is something of an understatement for this extravagantly crested little duck. Adult males are a sight to behold, with sharp black-and-white patterns set off by chestnut flanks. Females get their own distinctive elegance from their cinnamon crest. Hooded Mergansers are fairly common on small ponds and rivers, where they dive for fish, crayfish, and other food, seizing it in their thin, serrated bills. They nest in tree cavities; the ducklings depart with a bold leap to the forest floor when only one day old.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Hooded Mergansers are fairly common on small ponds and streams across their breeding range. In fall through spring, head to unfrozen lakes or shallow, protected saltwater bays and look for them mixed in flocks with other small divers like Bufflehead and Ruddy Ducks. Pay attention for flying ducks too—a fast series of truncated whistles from high overhead may signal the rapid wingbeats of a commuting merganser.
- Serreta Capuchona (Spanish)
- Harle couronné (French)
If you live near the appropriate habitat for mergansers, consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. If your box does not have nest material from a previous resident, you can add wood shavings to entice a new resident. Find out more about nest boxes on our Attract Birds pages. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.
- Cool Facts
- Along with Wood Ducks and other cavity-nesting ducks, Hooded Mergansers often lay their eggs in other females’ nests. This is called “brood parasitism” and is similar to the practice of Brown-headed Cowbirds, except that the ducks only lay eggs in nests of their own species. Female Hooded Mergansers can lay up to about 13 eggs in a clutch, but nests have been found with up to 44 eggs in them.
- Hooded Mergansers find their prey underwater by sight. They can actually change the refractive properties of their eyes to improve their underwater vision. In addition, they have an extra eyelid, called a “nictitating membrane,” which is transparent and helps protect the eye during swimming, like a pair of goggles.
- Hooded Merganser ducklings leave their nest cavity within 24 hours of hatching. First, their mother checks the area around the nest and calls to the nestlings from ground level. From inside the nest, the little fluffballs scramble up to the entrance hole and then flutter to the ground, which may be 50 feet or more below them. In some cases they have to walk half a mile or more with their mother to the nearest body of water.
- On the bird family tree, Hooded Mergansers (genus Lophodytes) lie between goldeneyes (Bucephala) and the other North American mergansers (Mergus). They share many courtship behaviors and calls with both of those groups.
- The Hooded Merganser is the second-smallest of the six living species of mergansers (only the Smew of Eurasia is smaller) and is the only one restricted to North America.
- The oldest recorded Hooded Merganser was a male and at least 14 years, 6 months old when he was shot in Mississippi in 2009. He had been banded in Minnesota in 1995.