Hoodies in the Hood

by Skip Via
skip@westvalleynaturalists.org

One of the most visually striking waterfowl you might encounter in the valley is the hooded merganser. Both males and females have distinct crests which they can raise and lower. The males are particularly beautifully marked, especially in breeding season.

Hooded mergansers are waterfowl, but they are not ducks. They are the only member of the genus Lophodytes, literary “crested diver.” They are not uncommon in the valley, but they are seen more rarely than most other waterfowl. They prefer swamps or ponds with lots of trees, particularly older trees and snags in which they nest. This is why they are not a common site in less wooded ponds such as the Potholes (see Locations). Hoodies are primarily fish eaters, but they also eat insects, small crustaceans and other invertebrates. They’re obviously divers, and they hunt underwater by eyesight.

While I have seen a few hoodies in the ponds of the Potholes, and a few on Ashley Creek, they seem to be more common on Swan Lake and along the Swan River in Bigfork. The photos and videos in this post were taken along the riverwalk north of the dam on the Swan River on November 19, 2020. A few days earlier, on that same trail, we encountered dozens of hoodies, including one flotilla of 14 individuals. Sadly, I didn’t have my camera, so we came back to find these beauties.

Two males
A beautifully crested female
Several mergansers swimming and preening
Not strictly mergansers, although both males and females make an appearance. A goldeneye pair is joined by two buffleheads, then abruptly by more goldeneyes. The mergansers are watching from above.

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