Small diving duck 16” to 19” long with an average wingspan of 26”. Drakes have a distinctive white, fan-shaped crest bordered in black. Body plumage is black above and a muted brick color on the flanks. The breast is white with paired black stripes. Hens have a less showy, chocolate-brown crest and gray-brown body plumage. Both sexes have a slender, pointed bill with a serrated edge, an adaptation for grasping and holding small fishes. In flight hooded mergansers show a white patch along the rear edge of the wings.
Tidal rivers and bays.
Hooded mergansers typically breed in the “prairie pothole” country of the northern U.S. and south-central Canada. They overwinter in Mexico and along the Gulf Coast, and pass through the Chesapeake region and other points along the Atlantic seaboard from spring through early fall.
Fish, frogs, aquatic insects.
Croak, squirrel-like chattering. Listen to a sample (Requires RealPlayer)
The hooded merganser is a fast, deft flier that takes flight with a sudden leap into the air. In rural Virginia, hooded mergansers are known colloquially as “hairyheads.”
The decoy pictured is from the collection of the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art and was photographed by Middleton Evans. Waterfowl sounds are courtesy of the Macaulay Lab of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.