With boldly patterned plumage, the male harlequin duck is unmistakable, and while the female lacks as many distinct markings, she shares the preference for turbulent, rocky water that helps distinguish these diving ducks.
Harlequin Duck, Sea Mouse
- Bill: Short, blue-black
- Size: 18-20 inches long with 26-inch wingspan, compact build
- Colors: White, black, gray, chestnut, brown, gray-blue
- Markings: Dimorphic species. Males have gray-blue plumage, chestnut flanks and a black tail with bold white lines bordered in black on the breast, upper back and sides of the chest. The head has a white triangle behind the bill, a white spot and thin crescent toward the back of the head, and a black crown bordered by a white and chestnut arch. Females are overall brown or grayish with lighter underparts, with three indistinct white patches on the head – two toward the front of the face and one on the rear cheek. Both genders have dark eyes.
Aquatic insects, mollusks, crustaceans
Habitat and Migration:
Harlequin ducks are hardy birds that prefer turbulent, flowing water. In the summer, these ducks are found in forested rivers and streams from Alaska and western Canada into the western mountains of Montana and Oregon, along with similar habitats in eastern Russia, Japan and east Asia and a similar area of coastal Newfoundland and Labrador. In winter, harlequin ducks migrate to rocky seacoasts spreading from Alaska to central California and along the Atlantic coast as far south as North Carolina, with similar migratory patterns in their Asian range. Small populations of harlequin ducks are also found in appropriate habitats in Iceland, and vagrant sightings are possible far inland and well away from traditional ranges, though many of those sightings may be captive or escaped birds rather than wild ducks.
The harlequin duck is generally silent but males have a series of whistles and squeaks used in courtship that have earned the species its "sea mouse" nickname. Both genders have low barking croak calls.
These birds form small flocks and can frequently be found in groups on rocky offshore shoals when receding tides reveal new perches. They are energetic swimmers and will dive beneath the water using their legs, feet and wings to propel themselves under the surface. They will even walk under the water to forage.
Harlequin ducks are monogamous birds and the female parent will incubate a brood of 3-9 eggs for 27-30 days before hatching. The precocial young leave the nest shortly after hatching and are able to forage by themselves, but the female parent will tend the young birds and lead them to good food sources until their first flight at roughly 35-42 days. These birds only raise one brood per year.
Attracting Harlequin Ducks:
Because of their preference for open, turbulent waters, these are not backyard birds. Birders can help protect harlequin ducks' habitat by taking steps to prevent offshore pollution and beach debris that can be fatal to the birds, and to preserve the rocky outcroppings these ducks prefer.
- Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)
- Baikal Teal (Anas formosa)
- Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)