Hooded Mergansers are small ducks with a thin bill and a fan-shaped, collapsible crest that makes the head look oversized and oblong. In flight, the wings are thin and the tail is relatively long and rounded. Adult males are black above, with a white breast and rich chestnut flanks. The black head has a large white patch that varies in size when the crest is raised or lowered, but is always prominent. Females and immatures are gray and brown, with warm tawny-cinnamon tones on the head.
Habitat and Distribution
Their preferred habitat for breeding is in swamps and wooded ponds of the northern half of the United States and southern Canada. These birds are short-distance migrants, and winter in the United States wherever winter temperatures allow for ice-free conditions on ponds, lakes and rivers.
These ducks feed by diving and swimming under water to collect small fish, crustaceans and aquatic insects. They find their prey underwater by sight.
The birds prefer to nest in tree cavities near water, but will use Wood Duck nesting boxes if available and unoccupied. They form pairs in early winter. The male leaves the female soon after she lays her eggs. After hatching, chicks leave the nest with their mother within 24 hours.