Bird of the Week: Hooded Merganser

The Hooded Merganser is another entry in the Bird Name Hall of Shame, where can be found such inaptly-named birds as the Orange-crowned Warbler, the Red-bellied Woodpecker, and the American Black Duck. What the “Hooded” Merganser does have is a beautiful and conspicuous crest, which it can raise to extravagant proportions in order to attract a mate. (Females have these crests as well, though they are not as boldly patterned.) Yet the Hooded Merganser is so much more than just another pretty face. For one thing, unlike most ducks, Hooded Mergansers are skilled hunters of fish and crustaceans, diving deep and identifying prey by sight (their eyes are highly adapted to underwater vision). They also have extraordinarily precocious babies: Merganser ducklings leave the nest 24 hours after hatching–and since they nest in hollow trees, this entails a leap of faith that may be as great as 50 feet! Hooded Mergansers also practice brood parasitism, similarly to the Brown-headed Cowbird, although, unlike Cowbirds, Mergansers only parasitize the nests of other Mergansers. This they do prolifically: while the average Hooded Merganser lays around a dozen eggs in each clutch, nests have been found with as many as 44 eggs!

Compiled by Owen Moorhead. Sources include the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society.