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Lophodytes cucullatus

The hooded merganser is a spectacularly beautiful bird. It is the smallest native merganser in North America. These mergansers are 16-19 inches long with a wing span of 25 inches.

The male has a black head with a white crest that it can raise to signal and display during courtship. It has a long and narrow black serrated bill. The neck is black and is bordered with a white breast that has two black bars running from the shoulder to the water line. Chestnut sides set off the black back and tail.

Females have a dull brownish-gray head with a rusty crest. The body is a brownish gray with a black back. The bill is dark with a yellow lower mandible.

During courtship, the male will raise and lower his crest while making a frog like "crrrroooo" ending with a hollow pop. They are cavity-nesting water birds whose population has rebounded with conservationists erecting wood duck boxes, which they readily use.

They are monogamous and a solitary nester. The female will incubate 6-18 eggs for 26-41 days. The young leave the nest within 24 hours of hatching. The young follow the mother, but feed themselves.

Hooded mergansers will swim underwater, catching fish, which the serrated bill with then hold onto. They also eat crustaceans, aquatic insects and plants.

The breeding range of the hooded merganser is primarily in eastern Canada, south into the Mid-Atlantic States into the Ozarks. A small breeding population is in northern Oregon extending into British Columbia and southwestern Alberta. This population winters in northern California and southern Idaho into northern Utah.

Hooded mergansers are found reliably in the USU Botanical Gardens at the Kaysville Ponds in winter.

Bill Fenimore is owner of the Layton Wild Bird Center," Target="_BLANK">, author of Backyard Birds of Utah and member of the Utah Wildlife Board.