Deer in Spring Landscape

Hooded Merganser
(Lophodytes cucullatus)

Hooded Merganser, photo courtesy of John White

Description & Range:

The hooded merganser is a saw-billed diving duck named for the fan-like hood or crest at the back of the head which can be expanded or contracted. They use saw-toothed bills to feed on aquatic life like frogs, insects, juvenile fish and mud crabs as well as bay grasses and seeds. This duck has a protective membrane on its eye which enhances its underwater feeding vision, and a muscular gizzard – allowing it to digest the exoskeletons of some shellfish.

While males are mostly black with rusty brown sides and a white hood, females are dusty brown with a cinnamon-colored hood. For the most part, hooded mergansers are found in the Bay watershed area in spring and fall – living in wooded lake, pond and swamp areas, and streams and rivers. Although the species is a strong swimmer and one of the swiftest diving ducks, it is very awkward on land because its legs are situated at the far back of its body.

The Hooded Merganser can be found in western Maryland during summer months and also eastern Maryland during winter months. Its primary range stretches from Canada down the mid-eastern U.S. into southern Florida and Texas.

Habitat:

Hooded mergansers prefer wooded lakes, ponds, rivers; in winter, also tidal channels and protected bays.

Diet:

Frogs, insects, juvenile fish and mud crabs as well as bay grasses and seeds.

Reproduction:

Hooded mergansers breed locally in Maryland with mating calls resembling low frog-like croaks. If a female is disturbed during the incubation period, she will abandon her nest and is later able to lay a new clutch of eggs. Several days after the down-covered ducklings hatch, they will follow the mother to look for food, and will fledge by the time they are 10 weeks old.

Sounds:

Low grunting or croaking notes