Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the hooded merganser.
When spotted on one of our area lakes or on the river, the hooded merganser demands a second look. In breeding plumage, the eye-catching, fan-shaped white hood on the male’s black head gives a regal look to this small duck. Black back, chestnut-colored sides and a white breast cut by a black side stripe complete the male’s color scheme. Females and immatures show a brown color pattern and cinnamon-colored shaggy head crest.
These ducks use their slender, toothed bills for catching and holding onto prey, which is usually swallowed whole. Legs set far back on the body assist them in diving for fish, aquatic insects, crayfish, amphibians and even some plant matter. They will also feed by swimming with only the head submerged. An extra transparent eyelid, the nictitating membrane, protects their eyes and allows them to locate food underwater by sight.
These mergansers are restricted to North America, where they nest in tree cavities in forested, shallow-water habitats. They will also use nest boxes. Once incubation starts, the male disappears, leaving the female alone to defend the eggs from predation by raccoons, minks, snakes, bears and other birds. Within 24 hours of hatching, ducklings jump from the nest, up to 50 feet to the ground, and are led by mom to water. They need little parental care.
Although not frequent visitors to our area, they are certainly ones worth watching for.
For information on local bird-watching events, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.

This story was posted on January 14, 2020.