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Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)

Hooded Merganser by Caren Park
Hooded Merganser by Caren Park

The handsome Hooded Merganser appears exclusively in North America, unlike other Mergansers.  At 16-19" it is one of our most beautiful waterfowl.  This duck's thin spike-like bill with saw-like teeth and crested head give it a distinct profile.  The male's white head patches are fan-shaped and conspicuous when his crest is raised.  The crest is bordered with black on the rear edge.  The female is brownish overall with a grayish-brown head and a prominent rust-orange crest.  The abbreviation HOME is the four letter code for the Hooded Merganser.  It is one of the swiftest ducks that fly, and hurls itself with the velocity of a bullet, making right-angle turns that seem so incredible to us.

The male HOME is sometimes confused with a male Bufflehead which has a quarter-round white patch above and behind the eye.  Also, the Bufflehead is mostly white with a black back and a small duck bill, and at 13-15 inches, is smaller.

The HOME can be found in our area all year, but is more common in the fall and winter.  In breeding season it is found on woodland ponds, rivers, and sheltered backwaters (less often on large lakes) where its main competition comes from the Wood Duck for tree nesting sites.  It can be reliably seen on Phantom Lake and Juanita Bay this time of year.


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