Range & Habitat
Hooded mergansers have both western and eastern populations in North America. They winter along the Pacific coast, from Southern Alaska to California, and the coastal waters of the Southeastern United States, respectively. They breed from Southern Alaska south to Oregon and from Nova Scotia south to Arkansas and Northern Alabama.
The name :hooded: refers to the crest of feathers on their heads. When erected, this crest looks like a hood. The breeding male's hood, when erected, shows a white patch surrounded by black. Females and non-breeding males have a reddish-brown crest which matches the rest of the bodies. They have narrow bills that are hooked and serrated in order to aid in capturing slippery prey. Mergansers are agile in the water and air, but appear clumsy walking on land because their legs are located on the back portion of its body. They have been seen flying as groups, couples, and singles during migration, which occurs usually in early spring and late fall. Hooded Mergansers are visual hunter, submerging their heads underwater while paddling to look for food. While the Hooded Merganser does not have a conservation status, habitat destruction has led to a loss of nesting areas for them. Water pollution has also killed off some of the smaller aquatic vertebrates which make up a portion of their diet. They have been known to use man-made nesting boxes in treeless areas.
They form breeding pairs in early winter, and prefer to nest in tree cavities near water. Breeding season runs March-May. Hooded Mergansers breed in places such wooded ponds, rivers, lakes, swamps, and marshes. Male courtship involves elaborate displays of his crest and unique vocalizations. A male will commonly do a "Head-Throw," in which he throws back his head, touching his back, and slowly moves it forward. While he does this, he emits a frog-like croak to the female. The female lays 10-12 eggs and incubates them alone for 29-33 days. Twenty four hours after all of the eggs have hatched, the mother leads them out to the water. She stays with them for about five weeks while they explore their surroundings.
In the Wild: Fish, crayfish, frogs, clams, mud crabs, aquatic insects, and insect larvae. In the Zoo: Water fowl diet, kale, apples, and sometimes mealworms.