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Hooded Merganser

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Latin: Lophodytes cucullatus
Average length: M 18.1 in, F 17
Average weight: M 1.6 lbs, F 1.5 lbs

Description: The hooded merganser is the smallest of the three merganser species occurring in North America. Male hooded mergansers have a large white crest surrounded by black. The top of the head, neck and back are all black, and the chest, breast and belly are white. Wavy black lines can be seen on the tawny sides and flanks. The hindback, rump and tail are dark brown. The long, narrow, serrated bill is black. The iris is bright yellow and the legs and feet are dull yellow. Female hooded mergansers have a gray-brown head and neck with a reddish-brown crest. Gray pervades their neck, chest, sides and flanks, and brownish-black dominates their back, rump and tail. The upper bill is black-edged with orange and the lower bill is yellow. The legs and feet are greenish in color and the iris is brown.


Breeding: Hooded mergansers breed from southeastern Alaska, central British Columbia and southwestern Alberta to southwestern Oregon, central Idaho and northwestern Montana; and from central Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia, south to Kansas, northern Louisiana and northern Georgia. Hooded mergansers prefer forested wetland systems, where they nest in tree cavities or nest boxes and lay an average of 9-11 eggs.


Migrating and Wintering: Of the three species of mergansers occurring in North America, the hooded merganser is the only one restricted to the continent. Forested wetlands, brackish estuaries and tidal creeks are preferred wintering habitats. Hooded mergansers winter along the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf coasts, mainly from southeastern Alaska to northern Baja California, and New England to Florida and west to northern Mexico. The majority of wintering hooded mergansers occur in the Mississippi Flyway.


Population: Hooded mergansers are most common in the Great Lakes region and current information suggests a stable, possibly increasing population in some areas. However, data on population size and status are tenuous due to the secretive nature of this species. Historically, populations likely suffered from habitat loss.


Feeding Habits: Hooded mergansers dive in fresh water to feed on small fish, crayfish and other crustaceans and aquatic insects.


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