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Hooded Merganser

Hope B. McCormick Swan Pond

Did You Know?

  • Hooded mergansers are the only North American duck that specializes in eating fish.
  • They can improve their vision underwater by changing the shape of their eyes’ corneas and lenses to correct for light refraction. They also have a nictating membrane, a transparent eyelid that allows them to see while diving underwater.
  • These ducks engage in brood parasitism; females may lay eggs in the nests of other hooded mergansers, who will then care for their young.

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Scientific Name: Mergus cucullatus

Class: Birds

Diet: Fish (also, crustaceans, aquatic insects, tadpoles, and plant material)

Range: Southern Canada and throughout the U.S.

Endangered Status: Least Concern

More Information

Hooded mergansers are small ducks, around 19 inches in length, with wingspans up to 26 inches. Males have black backs, white breasts, and chestnut flanks during the breeding season. Otherwise, they are gray and brown like females and juveniles. These birds are named for the extravagant crests that resemble hoods; the ones on males are distinct with large white patches, while females have cinnamon-colored versions.

These are migratory birds, living in the eastern and northwestern U.S. and wintering in southern states. Both genders show courtship behaviors, after which females lay nests in tree cavities 10–50 feet off the ground. They incubate their eggs for around 33 days. Ducklings leave the nest within 24 hours of hatching and fledge after 70 days. Hooded mergansers were overhunted in the early 20th century, but now have stable populations.

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