Hey guys, welcome back! Today we have our second of 3 North American mergansers, the Hooded Merganser. Like the Red-breasted Merganser from a while back, the Hooded has a rather narrow, serrated bill with a slight hook on the end for eating fish. Hooded Mergansers, however, are much smaller. The drake is mostly black and white, with brown flanks. Like other mergansers, the Hooded Merganser has a crest, sometimes called a hood, hence the name. The male can raise or lower the crest, not only giving the head a different shape, but the large white spot as well. Females are also crested, but are brown overall.
Size-wise, Hooded Mergansers are comparable to Bufflehead. In fact, I had a colleague when I started in Central Park who had one hell of a time telling the two apart. Both ducks are quite common in Central Park in winter, and even seeing them side by side he had a tough time. (I should mention it was the males he had trouble with. The females are slightly more distinct) I think it was because he was focused on the head of the bird. Both have black heads with large white spots. This is one example of why it’s good to know a couple of distinguishing field marks for a bird, because while the heads look similar, the rest does not. The Bufflehead is solid black on top and white below, while the Hooded Merganser has a striking black and white striped pattern, brown flanks, and white breast.
Hooded Mergansers are the only merganser species Ive seen here in St. Louis. They’re quite common in Forest Park. In late January alone I saw no fewer than 4 pairs on Post-dispatch Lake, and there were a number of others that found their way into the waterfowl lakes at the St. Louis Zoo. It’s funny how, of the three North American merganser species, the Hooded have been the most common (in my experience) while the Common Merganser is the one I’ve seen least. Join me next time when we finally look at our first falcon species. See you all then!