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Friday, November 25, 2011

Hooded Mergansers in my neighborhood

When I heard that there was a pair of Hooded Mergansers hanging out at the pond on the Tomball campus of Lone Star College which is less than two miles from where I live, of course I had to hurry right over there to see for myself. Mergansers are not ducks that I normally see in my neighborhood. Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Mallards, Wood Ducks all are expected. Hooded Mergansers, not so much, so seeing them here would be quite a treat.

And sure enough, just as promised, there they were - a pair of the beautiful birds swimming around in the small pond.

Both the male and the female have the eponymous "hoods," but the male's is much more showy - a brilliant white against black feathers, all of which enhance the color of that gorgeous red eye. The bird also has the two black-on-white "spurs" below the neck on the breast, as seen here, which gives him an even more flamboyant appearance. When the crest, or hood, is raised all the way, the head looks round in silhouette, but he wasn't displaying it today. The hood stayed at half-staff during all the time that I watched.

The female merganser's hood is reddish brown, not so different from the color of her body and so not as noticeable, but she is a very pretty duck.

     A little Pied-billed Grebe was keeping company with the mergansers today. Both species dive for their food so they are right at home together.

Mergansers have long, thin bills, unlike the typical duckbill, that are made for feeding on fish, crustaceans and insects that they capture in the water. They are small and streamlined ducks, being only about 18 inches in length, and when they fly, they do so with very fast, shallow wingbeats. They are uncommon and typically appear in small flocks on sheltered ponds and bays. They winter in our area and all along the Gulf Coast.

These birds seem to have settled in at the pond, although they were a little skittish and didn't want me to get too close to them. There's not a lot of cover for them, so whenever I began to make them nervous, they would dive. If you want an easy birding experience with some lovely birds, head on over to Tomball's Lone Star College this weekend and walk down by the pond. Chances are you will see something special.


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