This piece is dated, but not by much. What’s recounted here took place on 4/1. From time to time we have subject birds, and the subject bird this time is the Hooded Merganser or “Hoodie.” It’s North America’s smallest merganser and the only one that breeds and winters here. It’s a species that’s described as quiet and secretive, but it’s also described as distinctive and dapper. You’ll see why when you look at the photos.
A Park Visit
It wasn’t a promising morning. Rain was in the forecast, and I wasn’t very hopeful. But I headed out with my camera anyway and went to one of those often-overlooked places to bird and take photos: a public park. The park was Lower Allen Community Park in Lower Allen Twp., PA.
While I was there, I took some photos of a group of Common Mergansers, but they were swimming away from me. I took one of a robin on a nest, but the lighting was poor, and I couldn’t get the bird in focus. I also had to shoot upward, which I don’t like to do.
I then headed for my truck, but at the last minute decided to take another look at the park’s wooded pond. I’d already been there once; it’s always the first place I visit. It’s said that these ponds are “magnets for wildlife.” A few days earlier, I had 11 Eastern Phoebes along its banks. Sometimes it’s where Red-shouldered Hawks hang out. Visits to the pond are almost always productive.
I climbed the small hill to reach it. As I approached the top, I could see a pair of Hoodies in the water. They reminded me of the mating pair I’d found there in November. I wrote about them in “A Special Moment.” I stopped and went no further. Using the top of the hill as a blind, I stayed where I was and watched. I “gained an audience.” Gaining an audience has many benefits, but I can think of 2 right off. It offers the possibility of capturing something special and it offers the possibility of learning more about birds. I was able to do both that morning.
Here’s how things looked when I first arrived. The female wasn’t close by. Note the male’s relaxed crest and that he wasn’t swimming away. The top of the hill is in the foreground.
I wasn’t prepared for what I saw next. Gaining an audience offers that possibility, too.
It wasn’t long before the male approached the female and made contact. She’d no doubt solicited his approach and was ready.
He wasted no time in mounting her. She almost disappeared in the water beneath him, but not before he pulled up some of the feathers on her nape and held them in his beak.
After 4 seconds her head came up, but he stayed in place, still holding on to her feathers.
He dismounted, and she floated up a bit more. But he stayed close by and continued to hold her feathers. He held them for a total of 7 seconds.
Finally, they separated into different areas of the pond. I stopped focusing on him and began to focus on her instead. She’s another one of those unsung female birds.
After a few seconds, she paused and raised up as if to punctuate how she felt. What a joy it was to watch, and what an ending to what I’d just seen.
A Final Word
I mentioned in “A Special Moment” that courtship and pair formation start as early as November for Hooded Mergansers. These two, then, had probably paired some time ago. So, what I observed from the edge of the pond and what I just described here was either pair bond maintenance behavior or copulation behavior. It wasn’t courtship behavior as such. Still, it was exciting and a real privilege to watch. I hope you enjoyed “watching” it, too.
And This Just In
Here’s one of the first thoughts I had when I came home and looked at the above photos on my monitor: “I’m sorry, but you can’t tell me there’s no tenderness in the Animal Kingdom.” It was at that point that I came up with the title, “Hooded Bliss.”
Speaking of Hooded bliss, Hoodie pair bonds are seasonal (unlike Canada Geese, let’s say). They stay together for only one breeding season, though some may stay together longer. The same holds true for most other ducks and some other bird species.
Quip, Question, Quote(s)
“Many species of mammals and birds will allow you to approach them closely if you are careful and take your time, no fast movements and using the correct techniques. Read the land for yourself, see what’s in front of you, in between you and the subject, use natural gulley’s and shapes to break up your approach.” (https://blog.craigjoneswildlifephotography.co.uk/)
“After identifying the bird, be curious, watch it, and see something of how it lives its life.” (emphasis mine)
“Observing behavior is the essence of birding.”
Both the above are from John Kricher’s Peterson Reference Guide to Bird Behavior, a book I highly recommend. I also highly recommend Buteo Books.
Thank you for reading.