HOODED MERGANSER – (Lophodytes cucullatus)
The Hooded merganser, as the English name implies, has a head hood that looks more like a crest, and this part of its anatomy is larger than its head. Both sexes have a crest, although of different colors. The male crest is black as are the head and neck, and the crest has a large white patch, that varies in size depending if it’s up or down. The breast and under parts are white, the flanks are brown and the back is black, as well as the bill. There’s a black bar on each side of the breast. The black wings have three fine white bars. The latter is serrated (sawbill) and the upper part is slightly down curved at the tip. The legs and feet are dark grey. Females have a reddish-brown crest and are grey-brown with a white belly. Their bill is yellowish with a dark tip, and their legs and feet are dark grey. The ducklings are dark brown with pale cheeks. This small diving duck is around 45 cm (18 in.) long.
The name ‘Merganser’ is the contraction of ‘mergus’, which refers to an unspecified water bird, and ‘anser’, which means ‘goose’. The Latin name ‘Lophodytes’ means ‘crest’ and ‘diver’, and ‘cucullatus’ means ‘hooded’.
The bill of this merganser is specialized for its diet, which consists of small fish but also insects, crustaceans and molluscs that it locates visually with its well-adapted eyesight. Its habitat encompasses wetlands in forests, where it builds its nest in a cavity, whether natural (tree) or man-made (box). The nest is usually high above ground, which means that the ducklings have to climb down from considerable heights to reach the ground, apparently without getting hurt. Females will sometimes lay their eggs in other hooded mergansers’ nests (intra-species brood parasitism), and a nest may end up containing more than three dozens of eggs!
The hooded merganser breeds on PEI, and its occurrence on the island varies from rare to common, depending on the years and the seasons. The Maritimes are located at the northeastern limit of its breeding range, which covers the southeastern half of Canada, and the eastern part of the American midwest. During winter, it can be seen in the southern USA. It is also a year-round resident of southern BC and Alberta, and of the eastern half of the USA.
Conservation: the population of this small duck has remained relatively stable over the last decades, and might have increased in some places. It used to be over hunted, but no longer, although it is still being hunted. There are conservation programs in different regions to help increase their numbers. One factor that helps is an increase in the number of beaver ponds.