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Hooded Mergansers in Winter

When I worked at Connetquot River State Park Preserve on New York’s Long Island, I looked forward to seeing the many species of ducks that came from the freezing lakes and rivers of the north. The Island, being surrounded by water and  bordering the Atlantic Ocean, usually had a moderate winter making it an ideal place for large flocks of canvasback ducks, scaup, red heads, shovelors and ring-necked ducks to spend winter eating plants, insects and fish in its unfrozen lakes, streams and estuaries. If the Island experienced an unusually cold winter and its waterways froze, these birds would travel further south seeking open waters.

One of my favorite ducks that arrived each winter is the eye-catching hooded merganser. It is easily identified by its black and white body markings and chestnut flanks. The male’s head is a crest of white and black feathers. Each year a small flock of 15 to 20 birds settled in on the Connetquot River to snatch fish with their serrated bills.

In the spring these ducks return north to breeding grounds where they nest in tree cavities. Sometimes the merganser will lay her eggs in other female merganser nests. Within a day of hatching the ducklings climb out of the nest and fall to the ground where they follow the mom duck to the local waters.

The winter of 2017/18 is a particularly cold one, but I have not seen any mergansers here in Florida on the lakes near me. They certainly would be a welcomed sight.

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