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Hooded Mergansers Returning To Nest

3-25-16  hooded merganser flying 243

Hooded mergansers are present in most of the Northeast year round where there is open water, but many move south and southwest in winter.  Some actually migrate north to spend winters in the Great Lakes and southern Canada. Their numbers swell in March and April, when migrants are passing through as well as returning.  Often within days of when the ice goes out, this smallest (and arguably the most beautiful) of the three North American merganser species appears.

The courtship ritual of hooded mergansers takes place in groups of one or more females and several males.  The males raise their crests, expanding the white patch, and engage in behavior known as head-throwing.  They jerk their heads backwards until it touches their backs, while giving a frog-like croak. Females court by bobbing their heads and giving a hoarse quack.

Female breeding hooded mergansers select suitable cavities in both live and dead trees in which to nest. Stumps and snags near or in forested wetlands are their preferred nesting sites. Nest boxes are also used by this species, with those over or near water being the most sought after. After a month or a little more, the eggs hatch and downy, day-old chicks jump to the water (or ground) below, in response to their mother’s vocal urging.

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8 responses

  1. I have watched the male swimming back and forth in front of a female throwing up his hood when passing her. He did circles and all the while throwing his head back in a crowing position and flashing his hood. She was attentive, but not being near their breeding area, I imagine she thought, hmmm, good show, but lets not start the party yet!

    March 31, 2016 at 8:03 am

    • It’s an amazing courtship, isn’t it?

      March 31, 2016 at 10:05 am

  2. Marilyn

    I am just now trying to remember which is a bufflehead and which is the hooded merganser. The bufflehead looks more like a duck; the “hoodie” is larger with a pointy bill…

    March 31, 2016 at 8:17 am

  3. kate niboli

    Hello Mary, I am a fan of your blog and enjoy reading your posts regularly. I have a question for you that I thought might make a great post at some point. Last year we had a solitary peeper sort of sound outside our home at dawn and dusk. This year the sound came back, and very curious, we worked to find out what was making this neat little noise – we realized we have a male American Woodcock who has chosen this area for his spring mating! We are thrilled and fascinated. We have now seen the incredible areal mating call/ flight as dusk on several occasions and have done some basic online research – we want to know so much more about this fascinating little bird. We think we are hearing a second Woodcock doing its little peeper sound which makes us wonder how large a territory for a male is in mating season…or is that a female that he is attracting in? We also know the females are ground nesters, are the males too? How large is their territory? Do they share territory with other males? Our questions just keep piling up! We would love to know more about this fascinating bird! Thanks for a lovely blog! Kate

    On Thu, Mar 31, 2016 at 7:56 AM, Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote:

    > Mary Holland posted: ” Hooded mergansers are present in most of the > Northeast year round where there is open water, but many move south and > southwest in winter. Some actually migrate north to spend winters in the > Great Lakes and southern Canada. Their numbers swell in March ” >

    March 31, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    • Hi Kate,
      You’ve actually picked one of my very favorite birds! If you go to you can get a decent introduction to American woodcocks…after his aerial display, the male drops down in the same general area every time. If you run a little bit towards it every time it’s in the air, you can end up quite close to where he lands. (Once he landed on my daughter’s back!) They are a magnificent bird, with incredible adaptations, from camouflage plumage to the tip of its bill, which is flexible enough to be able to grasp a worm! Have fun observing their dawn and twilight displays – one of my very favorite things.

      March 31, 2016 at 6:26 pm

  4. Spectacular birds!

    March 31, 2016 at 8:56 pm

  5. Kathie Fiveash

    Mary, a couple of weeks ago I was at the local lake, and thought I was hearing some kind of frog, like a creaky gate, but it seemed too early to be a pickerel or leopard frog. Then I saw some splashing – far away, and I didn’t have my binos – and realized it was ducks. Some research at home made me feel confident that it was hooded mergansers. I don’t think I had heard that sound before. The same day I watched Canada geese battling, and learned later about their triumph ceremony. Fascinating.

    April 1, 2016 at 12:15 pm

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