January 2012 Bird Photo of the Month

Hooded Merganser Displaying © Dawn Currie

What a show this male Hooded Merganser puts on while the other waterfowl remain unimpressed, ignoring him in their search for food! His elegant plumage and magnificent display has a dual purpose: courting females and competing aggressively with other males seeking mates. Dawn Currie photographed this courtship ritual pose with a Canon EOS T2i, 400 mm, ISO 800, manual exposure, f/8, 1/1000 sec at Brevard County Ritch Grissom (Viera) Wetlands in January. The display consists of crest raised, head shaken or pumped, head tipped all the way to their back, guttural calls, wings flap upward, with a ritual drink finale; all while situated parallel to a female who, if responsive, bobs her head in return. Males counter-display and chase each other.

Hooded Mergansers arrive during our comparatively warm winter months to enjoy freshwater wetlands, brackish estuaries and tidal creeks where they dive for small fish, aquatic insects and crayfish. Though courting begins here, Hooded Mergansers leave in February primarily for the great plains of N. Dakota and forested areas around the Great Lakes and southern Ontario, where tree holes are chosen for nesting cavities.

Such bright feathers have a downside: these males are more detectable by predators, it is the risk they take to pair bond. Unlike most ducks, the male merganser deserts the nest area after the eggs are laid. He molts into alternate plumage, replacing the gaudy attire required to attract a mate with more a subdued look. During this period he is unable to fly for 3-4 weeks. The plain feathers help camouflage him from predators.

Juanita Baker
Coordinator of the Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society

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