Hooded Merganser

Common Name: Hooded Merganser
Lophodytes cucullatus

photo M Noonan



Mergansers are diving ducks that have long narrow bills for catching fish. The word merganser comes from the Latin "mergus" meaning to dive and "ânser" meaning goose. The Hooded Merganser is in the family Anatidae. This family is made up of ducks and duck-like waterfowl. The members of this family share adaptations to life on the water including webbed feet, flattened bills, and feathers with special oils to prevent water absorption. The Hooded Merganser’s specific name, cucullatus comes from the Latin words “cucullus” meaning hood and “atus” meaning provided with. Thus, cucullatus means provided with a hood.

photo Ivan Andrijevic


The Hooded Merganser is the smallest of the North American mergansers (40-49 cm). It has a long, narrow, serrated bill. This merganser is a sexually dimorphic species. The male has a black and brown back and wings and a white underside. It also has a white, fan shaped crest bordered in black on its head and a yellow eye. The female has a reddish tinged crest, grayish brown head and back, white belly, and a brown eye. In both the male and female, the crest can be expanded or contracted.


The Hooded Merganser is the only merganser to be found exclusively in North America. It breeds in the Pacific Northwest, along southern Canada, and east of the Mississippi River. It winters along the coast of California and in coastal habitats from Delaware to Texas. They are somewhat common in forested ponds in the Great Lakes region. This merganser prefers secluded freshwater, forested wetlands but can also be found in rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams.
The Hooded Merganser eats mostly fish, but also consumes aquatic insects, frogs, and crustaceans. Ducklings are mainly insectivorous. The Hooded Merganser has underwater vision that allows foraging during a dive.



The Hooded Merganser is a diving duck that is clumsy on land. However, a mother will lead her young over 1 km to water from the nest. It is a quick flier and lands at very high speeds using its feet to ski across the water to stop. The adults are preyed upon by raccoon and mink while the eggs are preyed upon but European Starlings, and many woodpecker species. To distract a predator from the nest, the female will feign a broken wing.

The Hooded Merganser is monogamous with pair bonds lasting one season. It is a cavity nester and will make its nest in a living tree, snag, or wood duck box. The nest is generally 10 to 50 ft above the ground. It is made by the female with material found in the cavity and down from the bird. The female will lay 7 to 15 eggs. The Hooded Merganser eggs are white and spherical with disproportionately thick shells. The female incubates the eggs for about one months during which she looses up to 16% of here body weight. The ducklings are precocial at birth and leave the nest within 24 hours. The female abandons her brood after about five weeks. Brood parasitism has also been found in the Hooded Merganser. It parasites and is parasitized by cavity nesters such as the Wood Duck, Common Goldeneye, and Common Merganser.


The Hooded Merganser is mostly silent. Vocalizations are mostly heard during courtship or around the nest. Males will make a frog-like craaa-crrrooooo or a pop noise. Females make a hoarse gack during courtship or a sea-duck-like croo-croo-crook to call the young.

Where to see them in WNY

The Hooded Merganser prefers forested wetlands. A quiet pond surrounded by forests would be a great place to see these birds. However, they can also be found in more open places such as streams and marshes.

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