BioPics: Mergansers on Lake Tahoe


photos by 5BlueMedia – used by permission

Also known as “Saw-Bills” or “Fish Ducks” in the United States,and as Goosanders in Asia and Europe, the mergansers are a large species of duck common to rivers, lakes, and marshlands. In recent years, the so-called “Common” Merganser, as seen in this picture, have come to inhabit areas once occupied by less common, and less adaptable, members of their family- including the visually striking “Hooded” Merganser.

Hooded Merganser (5129893712)

By Mike’s Birds (Hooded MerganserUploaded by Magnus Manske)

[CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Instantly recognized by the male’s large white-and-black crest, which is both larger and more eye-catching than the female’s smaller rust-brown “hood”, the Hooded Merganser can be found in wetlands along the Pacific Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, following an annual winter migration away from breeding grounds in Alaska and Canada. Here, these fish ducks often nest in old woodpecker hollows, fishing in the shallow waters of marshlands for crayfish, insects, and small fish, much like their common cousins.

While typically not seen in the wintering habitats of the United States, the male Hooded Merganser possesses a unique motion amongst the typical head-bobbing and wing-beating of other saw-bills. The Hooded Merganser will stretch its head until it touches it’s back in one quick, snapping motion, before slowly raising the head back to its original position, all the while emitting a frog-like croak. During the process, the male’s crest will often become erect, making its already striking hood all the more eye-catching.

Hooded Mergansers once were a common site along the shores of Lake Tahoe, nesting along with other wetland wildlife in the Upper Truckee Marsh, and important water filter for the lake that sits on the Nevada-California border. However, during the 1960s in what has been called the “most environmentally damaging intrusion on lakeshore in Lake Tahoe’s human history”, the construction of a vacation rental site known as Tahoe Keys paved over most of the marsh, displacing thousands of waterfowl such as the Hooded Merganser and robbing the lake of one of it’s most important water filters.

Today, the Hooded Merganser is a rare site along a lake that once was among its foremost wintering habitats, and has been since replaced by its more common cousin, a more adaptable species capable of living outside wetlands.

article by Devin Windelspecht, Watauga High School

photos by 5BlueMedia

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