Sunday, December 30, 2012

Two extraordinary ducks: one Hooded; the other Ringed

[Naples, FL. December 2012]

One look at this extravagant duck and it becomes clear that it is unsurpassed:


And indeed the Hooded Merganser is unique in its looks (the expandable crest, for one, is irresistible); it is also uniquely North American; and, moreover, it is the smallest merganser on the continent.


Strongly sexually dimorphic, the female [left] is a drab, brown and grey version of the male. Like other mergansers, the Hooded has a serrated bill and prefers to dive for food.


Hooded Merganser seen in Naples, FL.


A cavity nester, Hooded Merganser babies tumble down to the ground within 24 hours of hatching and follow their mother to the nearest lake.

While it is no mystery why this attractive merganser should deserve the epithet "Hooded", perhaps more of a mystery is spotting the ring on this duck:


If you can see the ring on the bill of this duck, you would be forgiven for calling this the ring-billed duck. However, a closer look will reveal a brown ring around the necks of both the male (right) as well as the female (left). This faint, hard to see, and hardly distinctive feature explains why this duck is known as the ring-necked duck. Evidently, the neck ring is much more visible on dead specimens that were examined by Edward Donovan in 1809 when he named the species.


The male ring-necked duck is related to the tufted duck of Eurasia to which it bears a strong resemblance.


A popular target in the hunting season, about half a million of these birds are shot annually in the US; Florida alone accounts for 92,000 kills as reported by the US Fish and Wildlife Service's "Harvest Information Program" publications available at: FWS Publications. These publications also detail how many geese, snipe, woodcock, rails and other birds are "taken" as part of the "responsible hunting" that US FWS promotes as part of their "bird management" initiatives.


Florida is a preferred destination for over-wintering waterfowl. And, assuming ducks such as the Hooded Merganser and the Ring-Necked Duck can get past those looking to "harvest" their lives along their migration, the many bodies of water in Southwest Florida will continue to offer refuge to these charismatic ducks.

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