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Hooded merganser

Lophodytes cucullatus

Photo: Hooded merganser
Weights and measures
Length from 40 to 49 cm
Weight from 540 to 680 g
State of endangerment
Animal description
The Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) is a strikingly beautiful and small-sized waterfowl that belongs to the duck family. This species is particularly notable for its distinctive and elaborate crest that can be expanded or contracted, giving the bird a unique and captivating appearance. The hooded merganser is native to North America, where it inhabits freshwater ponds, lakes, and rivers across the United States and Canada, often migrating to the southern United States or Mexico during the winter months.

Adult males are especially striking with their bold black and white markings. They feature a large white crest bordered with black that can be raised or lowered. When raised, the crest makes the head look disproportionately large. The body is sleek and dark, with a black back, white chest, and chestnut flanks. Their eyes are bright yellow, adding to their distinctive appearance. In contrast, females and juveniles are more subdued in coloration, featuring a gray-brown body and a smaller, reddish-brown crest. Females also have a distinctive white patch on their cheek, which is a helpful feature for identification.

Hooded mergansers have a compact body, measuring about 16 to 19 inches in length, with a wingspan of approximately 24 inches. They have a serrated bill which is thin and pointed, perfectly adapted for catching fish, their primary food source. These ducks are excellent divers, using their strong legs and webbed feet to propel themselves underwater in search of fish, aquatic insects, and crustaceans.

Breeding typically occurs in wooded areas near freshwater bodies. The hooded merganser is a cavity-nesting bird, often using tree holes or artificial nest boxes. Females lay a clutch of 8 to 12 eggs, which they incubate alone for about a month. Remarkably, within 24 hours of hatching, the ducklings are led to water by their mother, where they quickly learn to feed and swim.

In flight, hooded mergansers are swift and direct, with rapid wingbeats. Their flight is a sight to behold, as they often stay close to the water's surface, weaving through wooded areas with remarkable agility. On water, they are equally adept, often seen diving in a smooth, graceful motion before popping back up to the surface moments later.

The conservation status of the hooded merganser is currently of least concern, indicating stable population numbers. However, like many waterfowl species, they face threats from habitat loss, pollution, and climate change. Conservation efforts aimed at preserving their natural habitats and monitoring populations are crucial to ensuring the survival of this unique and captivating species.

In summary, the hooded merganser is a small, yet remarkable bird known for its distinctive appearance and remarkable diving abilities. With its striking plumage, agile flight, and aquatic prowess, it is a fascinating species for bird watchers and nature enthusiasts alike.
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