Hooded Merganser

Lophodytes cucullatus
Hooded Merganser specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A medium-sized (16-19 inches) duck, the male Hooded Merganser is most easily identified by its black head and body, rufous flanks, thin bill, and conspicuous white crest. Females are duller brownish-gray overall with a smaller brown crest. At a distance, the male of this species may be confused with the male Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola), which may be distinguished by its greenish head and white body. Duck hunters often call mergansers “saw-bills” in reference to their long, thin, serrated bills. The Hooded Merganser breeds across a large part of the eastern United States and southern Canada south to the Gulf coast and west to the edge of the Great Plains. Another breeding population exists in the Pacific Northwest. In winter, this species migrates away from northern and higher-altitude areas, and may be found along the Pacific coast from Alaska to California, in the eastern and southeastern U.S., and at scattered locations in the western U.S. Hooded Mergansers breed in lakes and ponds surrounded by woodland. Like a couple other smaller species of ducks, this species nests in tree cavities, often those left over from woodpecker nest sites. In winter, Hooded Mergansers may be found in freshwater or saltwater on rivers, marshes, estuaries, and bays. This species primarily eats small aquatic animals such as crustaceans, fish, and insects. One of several species of “diving ducks” in North America, Hooded Mergansers may be observed submerging themselves to feed in the water or on the bottom. In winter, they may also be observed in small flocks on slow-moving bodies of water. Like other mergansers, the Hooded Merganser undertakes swift, straight flights between bodies of water or on migration. This species is primarily active during the day.

DC Information

Common transient and winter visitor in tidewater areas, late September to early May, and rare breeder throughout this area in May and June. Seen on brackish marshes and inland ponds and lakes. Sexes are different.

Specimen Information

The bird on the left is a female.
Date: Unknown
Collected By: Wm Palmer
Locality:  Potomac River, near DC
Sex: Female
Catalog ID: 295970
The bird on the right is a male.
Date: Unknown
Collected By: Wm Palmer
Locality:  Unknown
Sex: Male
Catalog ID: 295975

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species