Thursday, January 13, 2011

Do the Funky Chicken

Hooded Merganser Drakes
Three Hooded Merganser drakes, crests fully raised, rock and roll their stuff for some off-camera females. And maybe kind of for themselves too.


Donna said...

hah, hilarious shot!

Tom Hilton said...

Great shot, very funny!

Generik said...

Man, those are some big-headed ducks!

Funny stuff, and great shot, as usual.

Jonny Hamachi said...


ahab said...

Thanks, all.

Jonny, nice to see you again (I love your icon!).

G, these ducks actually have normal to small-sized heads. That whole white business is a crest that rolls up like a fan on top of the head. I guess it's feathers but it behaves (and may actually be, partly) like a sort of bladder.

The female and immature male (seen here) of this species have red, punky hairdoes, but in the drake it transforms into a wild, white crest that can be down, up or anywhere in between. When they get excited they put it up, but for extra measure they can flop it kind of sideways or even pinch the whole thing forward. I'd love to catch one of them and examine it sometime, but they are extremely wild and shy. If you get too close, this happens.

The crest up position is typically used as they parade in front of females, hoping to make a match. Whenever you see a bonded pair, there's usually a loose male or two strutting nearby. I get the sense the females like to play the field. They are sexually active even now in the depths of winter, so competition is lively.

The situation in this photo is three loose drakes idly throwing down moves on one another while three entirely uninterested females rest nearby. These three males kept their crests up and distractedly milled around like exotic fish in a tank for ten minutes or so as I snuck up and shot them. They also can (and do!) pogo their heads straight up about four inches on a stalk-like neck into "high head" position. Then they hinge neck and head backward and down and open their beaks and let out this primal, ratcheting grown-like sound. It is otherworldy.

I have lots of shots of these compelling birds I'll try to remember to share here over this winter. Next to Common Loons these are probably my favorite water birds.