HARLEQUIN DUCK – (Histrionicus histrionicus)
The English name ‘Duck’ is from Anglo-saxon ‘duce’ and means ‘diver’. The Harlequin Duck owes its name to the striking plumage of the drake. ‘Harlequin’ was a colorful actor in the Italian Commedia Dell’Arte. The Latin name also refers to an actor. It is a smallish diving duck measuring approximately 40 cm (16 in.) long.
The male has a dark grey head and neck with a large white spot in front of the eye, that is the end of a crescent starting on the crown. There is a white spot behind the eye. There is a black band from the top of the head going down to the base of the bill. They have a narrow white ‘necklace’. The body is blue-grey with rusty sides. They have another narrow vertical white band between the breast and the sides. The tail is black. The wings are blue and white. The bill is grey, with a lighter tip. Females are brown, with a white spot behind the eye. The legs and feet are grey.
Harlequin ducks are found in fast moving streams, breakwaters and pounding surf along rocky shorelines. The shape of their bodies allows them to forage under water against strong currents. They nest on the ground near streams. They feed on insects and their larvae, small fish and crustaceans.
The harlequin duck does not breed on PEI, however observations of this species on the island vary from common to rare depending on the seasons. Their breeding range covers the western and eastern coasts of North America, and Groenland.
Conservation: this species of duck is as of ‘special concern’ by COSEWIC due to a decline in their population. Possible contributing factors are harnessing of white waters for hydroelectric projects, or mines, or hunting of females. Even if hunting is prohibited, sometimes females can be confused with females of allowable species for hunting. Pollution of their coastal waters is also a concern.