GCBO Bird of the Month
Hooded Merganser
by Mike Williams

The Hooded Merganser, (Lophodytes cucullatus or Mergus cucullatus), has a somewhat disputed taxonomy by some. First described by Linnaeus in 1758, it is sometimes grouped with the other mergansers genus, or more often as the single representative of the genus Lophodytes. It is monotypic (no subspecies) but has been known to hybridize with other mergansers. 
There are two distinct populations – a Western one that is resident from Southeast Alaska to Oregon with some local movement south to California in the Winter. The Eastern population appears more migratory, breeding in Canada and the Northeastern US and wintering in the South-east Atlantic region, and the Gulf coast. In Texas its usually found on or near the coast, but also on inland water bodies.
Hooded Mergansers breed on small lakes and ponds, and occasionally on fast flowing streams. They often winter on larger lakes, but also brackish/coastal area habitats. Their diet is very diverse but usually consists of fish, mollusks and insects. They will also eat vegetation if food supplies are short.
Breeding season runs from April to September and nests are made in tree cavities and occasionally in ground nests. They typically lay 12-14 eggs and have a long incubation time of 25-35 days. Their breeding success is very high in this species at over 90%.


A very distinctive merganser. The male has a black face and crest with a large white patch in the center of the crest. The back and wings are dark with some diagnostic white feathers in the primaries. Its breast and belly are white with rich brown rufous flanks. The female is dull gray above and white below with a light brown crest. 

Vocally, Hooded Mergansers are limited to a few croaks and grunts, but these are loud and aggressive especially in breeding season.

Interesting Facts:

·The hooded merganser hunts and catches food by sight underwater. It has a special nictating membrane that’s transparent that helps them see under water.

·Its legs are set very far back on the body making it an agile swimmer but very ungainly on land.

·A group of mergansers is known as a brace, flush, paddling or team.

·Hooded Mergansers are not threatened and appear to be a stable population but some habitat loss is starting to be ac concern for the future.

To download Mike Williams's photo of this cool bird, click HERE

To donate to us and our conservation work, click HERE