Hooded Merganser

Young Hooded Mergansers Out With Mother by Todd Henson

Family of Hooded Merganser ducks taking a break on a downed tree.

A short while back I posted a series of photographs of a family of Hooded Merganser ducklings emerging from their nest box for the first time. A number of years ago I was fortunate to photograph another Hooded Merganser family in the same location. These photos show how the young ducklings quickly grow into adolescents that very much resemble their adult parents.

"Mom, watch that tail!," says a young Hooded Merganser as its mother swishes her tail dry.

Mother Hooded Merganser looking one way...

... and then looking the other way.

The mergansers had grown accustomed to seeing people on the boardwalks that stretch through the wetlands. They swam to a downed tree not very far from the boardwalk and took a short nap. I was lucky to be there at that time. I took my camera off the tripod and sat down on the boardwalk to photograph the birds as close to their eye level as I could. To help steady the long lens I brought my knees up and rested the lens between my knees. I’m sure it looked awkward, but it helped steady the lens better than I could have otherwise.

A young Hooded Merganser resting on a downed tree.

The Hooded Merganser mother looks my way one more time before closing her eyes and napping with her young family.

I sat and watched them through their entire nap, slowing down my photographing when they had all closed their eyes. I didn’t want the shutter to bother them too much, though it likely wouldn’t have. I ended up spending a little over half an hour with this wonderful family of Hooded Mergansers, and was fortunate to be the only person there for the majority of the time. I treasure these sorts of moments, and I’m thankful that photography lets me capture them and share them with you. I hope you get at least some small amount of enjoyment viewing this beautiful family.

Rest time over, the family of Hooded Mergansers rise. Notice how sleek the mother's head can sometimes look. 

Family of Hooded Mergansers swimming away after their short rest.

Lunch time! A young Hooded Merganser has caught a tasty morsel.

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Hooded Merganser Ducklings Leaving Their Nest Box by Todd Henson

A swallow flies by, watching two little Hooded Merganser ducklings in their nest box.

Sometimes when photographing or observing wildlife advanced planning is incredibly important. But other times pure chance, being at the right place at the right time, plays a much larger role. This post is about a recent experience where luck made all the difference.

We were visiting a local wetlands park, one I often frequent. I knew of a nesting box occupied by a Hooded Merganser, so I set up on the boardwalk facing that box and watched for quite some time. No activity at all. So I continued on, seeing what else the wetlands would show me this day.

I began photographing a couple Yellow-rumped Warblers flitting through the brush when I starting hearing a strange sound, something I’d not heard before. I can’t really describe it, but it seemed to grow in volume and there appeared to be more than one source. I turned around and my eye happened to catch movement at the entrance to the nest box of the Hooded Merganser.

And what I saw was a waterfall of little puff balls falling from the nest box into the water below! The ducklings were leaving the box, and I just happened to be there to observe it. What were the odds I would be there at just that moment?

Here is a sequence of images showing one duckling jumping from the box to the water below. Click on the image to cycle through the sequence.

I wasn’t able to photograph the majority of the ducklings as they poured from the box, but I did manage to get my camera repositioned and moved in closer in time to capture a few of the chicks at the box entrance and jumping (or falling) to their siblings below.

Here is another sequence of images, this time of a duckling falling from the nest box. Click on the image to cycle through the sequence.

Just after the majority of ducklings had left the box the mother saw another female Hooded Merganser, apparently too close to the box. She attacked the other duck, making all kinds of noise, and driving the young ducklings in the opposite direction where they could hide in the brush.

Hooded Merganser ducklings just out of the box, swimming away from the fight between their mother and another duck.

When the mother had chased off the other duck she returned to gather her ducklings. They all huddled very closely together, likely to make them appear as one large bird instead of a number of small ones, hoping to fool any predators that might happen by. The group of merganser swam past an oblivious male Wood Duck and a turtle resting on a log before finally heading further out into the wetlands and beyond my view.

Mother reunites with her ducklings.

Hooded Merganser mother leading her ducklings through the brush.

I can hardly describe how thrilled I was to be there watching this sequence of events. I was so excited I likely introduced some extra shake into the camera which may have resulted in less than perfect focus. It was also a very overcast morning with some remaining fog that hadn’t quite dissipated. Because of this I boosted the ISO to 1600 to let me shoot at 1/640th of a second. Perhaps I should have boosted it a little more. I set my aperture to f/7.1. I didn’t want to stop down too much because that would drop the shutter speed, but I also wanted enough depth of field to keep the entire family of ducks together. I might have been able to open the aperture a little more than I did.

Hooded Merganser family swimming past an oblivious male Wood Duck (in the background).

Hooded Merganser Family sticking together and swimming further into the wetlands.

Overall I’m very pleased with having captured these images. I don’t consider them great photos, by any means, but I do consider them photos of a great experience. Have you ever been present when birds fledged the nest or left the nest box? What was the experience like for you?

They briefly broke up when passing behind a turtle basking on a log.

But they quickly came back together as a group before disappearing into the distance.

Lesson of the day

When you hear a new, unusual sound seek out its source. You never know what you may find.

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Hooded Merganser Flying Low Over Water by Todd Henson

A male Hooded Merganser flying low over water.

In early Spring Hooded Mergansers  become more active in the wetlands, performing fascinating displays, and beginning their nesting. They, along with Wood Ducks, sometimes use nesting boxes placed in various locations throughout the wetlands.

I love photographing Hooded Mergansers while they are in the water, especially when they are performing courtship displays. They are quite impressive when they fully raise their crest, especially the male, with a bright white crest surrounded by black.

I also enjoy photographing them when in flight. Photographing birds in flight is always a challenge, especially with fast flying birds such as ducks. It takes lots of practice!

I was fortunate this day to watch and photograph as a Hooded Merganser pair took flight from the water. I missed most of the shots, but in this one I captured the male in focus. I wish I had framed the shot a little lower to include the entire reflection of the merganser, but I’m pleased to have captured it at all.

When visiting wetlands locations keep your eyes open for ducks or other wading birds. You may be given an opportunity to see (and practice photographing) birds in flight.

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