More than 15 years on Hillman’s Long Lake and we’ve never seen Hooded Mergansers before this week. Common Mergansers? Sometimes we’ve been up to our eyeballs in them. But Hoodies? Never before.
This group of 10 was just part of the tribe. At one point we counted 54 Hoodies in our little bay.
We are fairly confident that the duck that seems to be leading the parade is a female Common Merganser. That will give you a sense of how the Hooded Mergansers are rather dainty as ducks go. Hoodies are about 16 inches long with a 24 inch wingspan. The Common type are 21-27 inches long with a wingspan of closer to 34 inches. The duck in the lead doesn’t have the typical female Common Merganser hairdo, but she looks right (for that) otherwise, including for her size. That, plus we see very few Common Goldeneyes, they are comparably sized to the Hoodies, and her bill doesn’t look right for a Goldeneye.
Hooded Mergansers. Lophodytes cucullatus. These are ducks whose young make the leap from their cavity nest to the ground when they are one day old. Their leap can be up to a 50 foot drop down to a forest floor. Then they waddle over to their mom who’s been calling to them as she waits in a nearby pond. Definitely a leap of faith for the tiny day-old fluff balls. Also some rather nonchalant parenting. Still, it works. Mostly one supposes.
Hoodies have specially adapted eyes that help them find prey under water. They have an extra eyelid, a “nictitating membrane.” It’s transparent and helps protect their eyes the same way a pair of goggles helps humans see under water.
Here’s another look at a few of the Hoodies who visited Long Lake around November 13th and 14th.
The Hoodies attracted the attention of Long Lake’s Bald Eagles too. We watched as an adult and an immature eagle dove into the water looking for lunch. We saw five unsuccessful attacks in two different sequences. There were major splashes. And each time the Bald Eagles came up empty-handed. Empty-footed, rather. We know that the Bald Eagles need to eat. But we were rooting for the Hoodies.