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Harlequin Duck

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Latin: Histrionicus histrionicus
Average length: M 17.3", F 15.8
Average weight: M 1.44 lbs., F 1.22 lbs.

Description: The male Harlequin is very distinct and can be confused with no other waterfowl species. The basic body color is a deep slate blue, enlivened by white stripes, crescents and spots on the head, neck and scapulars. The sides and flanks are chestnut colored. The bill is blue-gray with a pale nail and the legs and feet are grayish. Female Harlequin ducks resemble female buffleheads: Except for the three white spots on the head, the hen's basic color is black-brown. There also is an oblong white spot behind the eye instead of the circular one seen on buffleheads. Female Harlequins are also duskier and larger and, in flight, show no white patches on their wings, as buffleheads do.


Breeding: The Harlequin's range is divided into two separate and distinct regions: the Atlantic coast and the Pacific coast. The Atlantic population breeds from Baffin Island, Greenland and Iceland through central and eastern Quebec, eastern Labrador and northern Newfoundland. The Pacific population breeds from western Alaska, the northern Yukon, northern Columbia and southern Alberta south to Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and east of the Continental Divide in Montana. Harlequin ducks begin to mate in their second year of life. Females nest on the ground, on small cliffs, in tree cavities or on stumps along rocky shores close to the rapids of mountain streams. They lay an average of 5-6 eggs.


Migrating and Wintering: Migrating laterally from interior regions, Pacific Harlequins spend the winter in coastal areas from the Aleutian and Pribolof islands south to central California. The Atlantic population winters in coastal areas from Greenland and Iceland south through Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and down to Maryland.


Population: The Harlequin duck is abundant during the breeding season in a few regions within its range, but only in remote areas inaccessible to most people – in the Aleutian Islands. Recent population estimates place the Pacific population at 1 million individuals and the Atlantic population at 11,000 breeding pairs.


Food habits: Harlequin ducks dive to feed on crustaceans and mollusks, insects, small fish and roe found in riverine and marine habitats.


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