Bird of the Week: Hooded Merganser

Photo Courtesy of allaboutbirds.org

Photo Courtesy of allaboutbirds.org

Species: Hooded merganser, or Lophodytes cucullatus

Family: Anatidae (waterfowl, i.e. ducks, geese, and swans)

Star sign: Leo

Rating: 13/10

Ideal Date: a very expensive outing to a high-end sushi place

The hooded merganser is one of five or six species of duck that can currently be found in the Reed Canyon, and even though it’s one of the smaller birds in the bunch, its glamorous appearance makes it stand out from the crowd. While it’s not the most colorful duck in the bunch (that would be the Wood Duck, which looks like someone gave a bill to a set of watercolors), it has a certain class about it that no other quacker could compete with, all thanks to its namesake, the ostentatious black and white “hood” on its head. It can raise and lower this flashy, spectacular crest of feathers at will, and male mergansers use it to attract the ladies during breeding season. It also has the added effect of attracting people who like looking at funky ducks.

These dapper lads are part of a group of ducks known as mergansers, which hold the distinction of being the only type of duck that specializes in eating fish. The birds are great divers, and their narrow serrated bills are perfectly designed for fishing. There are about six species that are called mergansers, four of which are native to North America. Our fashionable feathered friends benefit from their good breeding; they’re expert fishers, their sharp (and pretty) eyes helping them spot their prey, and they also feed on vegetation and other, non-fish aquatic creatures.

During breeding season (which is right now!), male hooded mergansers can be easily recognized by their eponymous hoods, as well as their golden eyes and brown bellies. Females and non-breeding males are harder to identify — watch for tufts of feathers at the back of the head and a cinnamon coat. For a while, there were only two in the canyon, but within the past few weeks their numbers have increased exponentially, and there are now at least a dozen of these glamorous gents living in Reed Lake! Keep an eye out! Odds are you’ll see one of the most elegant, gorgeous birds in the country.

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