Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) in the Truckee River in Idlewild Park, Reno. Dec 2015. Photo: K. Fitzgerald.
- A small duck, body 15-19 inches long.
- Long, narrow, serrated bill.
- Male has black-and-white crested head, black and white stripes on sides, brown sides yellow eye.
- Female has brown head with puffy crest, grayish-brown body.
Hooded Mergansers are common along the Truckee River during winter months (Nov-Mar), when they are often seen in small groups of 2 or 3 birds, swimming in the river channel. Both sexes have puffy, crested heads, but the black-and-white pattern of the male is especially beautiful, and used during courtship displays.
During winter, Hooded Mergansers feed primarily on fish, crayfish and aquatic insects. Their eyes are adapted to underwater vision, and serrated bills help to grasp slippery prey (Dugger et al. 2009). When feeding, Hooded Mergansers take multiple dives, separated by short breaks. Their webbed feet are placed far back on their body, and are adapted for swimming and diving (Dugger et al. 2009).
Once spring arrives, Hooded Mergansers begin their migration to the Pacific Northwest, where they will breed and remain until the following fall, nesting in tree cavities near wooded streams and ponds (Dugger et al. 2009).
Small numbers of Hooded Mergansers may have once bred in the Truckee River region. During the 1860s, ornithologist Robert Ridgeway reported occasionally (rarely) seeing Hooded Mergansers in the “wooded valleys of the Truckee and Carson Rivers” during summer months (Ryser 1985). In Birds of the Great Basin (1985), Fred Ryser reports that he occasionally saw pairs on a pond near the Truckee River in Verdi in the springtime, and believed that they might be breeding in the area.
According to the ebird database, a few stragglers have been observed near Donner Lake, Boca Reservoir and Virginia Lake during summertime in recent years (2013 and 2015), but this is rare. If you see Hooded Mergansers along the Truckee (or a nearby lake or reservoir) during summer months, please record an observation!
References & Links
Dugger, B. D., K. M. Dugger and L. H. Fredrickson. 2009. Hooded Merganser (Lophodytescucullatus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu.unr.idm.oclc.org/bna/species/098
Ebird Database: http://ebird.org/ebird/map/hoomer
Ryser, Fred A. 1985. Birds of the Great Basin. Reno: University of Nevada Press.