Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Making Local History with a Hoodie in 'da Hood

We have a small "neighborhood" pond near my home. It's called Manila Creek Pond and it is used as one of many urban fisheries managed by the Division of Wildlife Resources. Fish-eating birds such as diving ducks, loons, herons, cormorants, and osprey are drawn to the pond because it is stocked with trout...and gold fish that residents decide they don't want to keep around the house. Right now the ducks are moving into and through Utah so I've stopped by the little pond every couple of days to see if it has attracted a migrating duck or other water bird.

I was happy to see a Hooded Merganser on the neighborhood pond on November 13th. Birders affectionately refer to these ducks as "hoodies".  They are a "diving" duck. They go down and swim under water to catch their prey, usually small fish. "Dabbling" ducks, like the mallards you see on nearly every pond, simply stick their head under water, or dabble, to gather plants and seeds from shallow water. I reported my hoodie sighting online with Cornell University's eBird program. I checked the eBird history of species reported on this pond and discovered that this was the first one to be reported. I guess we made a little birding history since it was the first record of a "Hoodie in 'da hood". Hoodies generally prefer sheltered ponds and bays, water that is surrounded by wooded hiding places. Our local pond is void of such hiding places. However, birds show up in unexpected places during migration when they are simply looking for a temporary place to rest and some food for refueling.

The adult male hoodies are very easily identified when seen in their breeding plumage and you'll see why with some images at the end of this post. Telling the difference between adult and juvenile females, however, is a bit of a challenge. Below is an image of the duck when I first located it last week. I've seen it several days since, including this evening on my way home from work. Based on some expert opinion I believe it is a juvenile female, but I'm not completely confident since I rarely see juveniles for this species.

Hooded Merganser on Manila Creek Pond in Pleasant Grove, UT
Adult Male and Female Hooded Merganser
South Jordan, UT
The image to the right shows the unique breeding plumage for an adult male or drake Hooded Merganser. Even when the male returns to a mostly brown, non-breeding plumage during summer months it still shows a nice yellow iris. Young males also show the yellow iris. An adult female is in the background of the image to the right. By comparing this known female with the image above I think you can see the adult female has a longer hood, try to imagine the length if its hood was up, and some white lines in the tucked flight feathers near the rear. The bird pictured above has a smaller hood and is lacking the wing markings of the adult female. The eye color doesn't really provide much of a clue between adult and juvenile females. Both have an iris color that appears dark brown/red.

The unique hood on the male, by the way, can be raised and flared just as you see in the image to the left. Males display their full hood during courtship and sometimes when alarmed.

Keep your eyes open as you pass by your local watering holes. Water foul are on the move and could be coming to a neighborhood near you.

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