Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
THE HOODED MERGANSER.
MERGUS CUCULLATUS, Linn.
PLATE CCCCXIII.--MALE AND FEMALE.
Excepting the Smew or White Nun, the Hooded Merganser is the handsomest of
its family. Its broad and rounded crest of pure white, with an edging of jetty
black, and which it closes or spreads out at pleasure, renders the male of this
species conspicuous on the waters to which it resorts. The activity of its
motions, the rapidity of its flight, and its other habits, contribute to render
it a pleasing object to the student of nature, not less than to the sportsman.
Its flesh, however, has a fishy taste and odour, although it is relished by some
persons. It seems to prefer fresh water, and is by no means very frequent along
the sea coast. Long, narrow, and moderately deep creeks, or small ponds, are
more frequented by it than large rivers or lakes.
On the waters of the Western and Southern States, these Mergansers are seen
to arrive from the north early in October, but generally later than many species
of Ducks, although sooner than either the Red-breasted Merganser or the
Goosander. At the approach of night, a person standing still on the banks of
such a river as the Ohio, first hears the well-known sound of wings whistling
through the air, presently after, a different noise, as if produced by an Eagle
stooping on her prey, when gliding downwards with the rapidity of an arrow, he
dimly perceives the Hooded Mergansers sweeping past. Five or six, perhaps ten,
there are; with quick beats of their pinions, they fly low over the waters in
wide circles. Now they have spied the entrance of a creek; there they shoot
into it, and in a few seconds you hear the rushing noise which they make as they
alight on the bosom of the still pool. How often have I enjoyed such scenes,
when enticed abroad by the clear light of the silvery moon, I have wandered on
the shores of la belle riviere, to indulge in the contemplation of nature!
Up the creek the Mergansers proceed, washing their bodies by short plunges,
and splashing up the water about them. Then they plume themselves, and anoint
their feathers, now and then emitting a low grunting note of pleasure. And now
they dive in search of minnows, which they find in abundance, and which no doubt
prove delicious food to the hungry travellers. At length, having satisfied
their appetite, they rise on wing, fly low over the creek with almost incredible
velocity, return to the broad stream, rove along its margin until they meet with
a clean sand-beach, where they alight, and where, secure from danger, they
repose until the return of day. A sly racoon may, when in search of mussels,
chance to meet with the sleeping birds, and surprise one of them; but this
rarely happens, for they are as wary and vigilant as their enemy is cunning, and
were the prowler to depend upon hooded Mergansers for food, he would be lean
This bird ranges throughout the United States during winter, content
with the food it meets with in the bays and estuaries of the eastern coast, and
on the inland streams. The dam of the Pennsylvania miller is as agreeable to it
as that of the Carolina rice-planter. The Lehigh and Brandywine creek have
their fishes, as well as the waters of Bear Grass or Bayou Sara. Nay, the
numerous streams and pools of the interior of the Floridas are resorted to by
this species, and there I have found them full of life and gaiety, as well as on
the Missouri, and on our great lakes. When the weather proves too cold for
them, they move southwards, many of them removing towards Mexico.
The Hooded Merganser is a most expert diver, and so vigilant that at times
it escapes even from the best percussion gun. As to shooting at it with a flint
lock, you may save yourself the trouble unless you prevent it from seeing the
flash of the pan. If you wound one, never follow it: the bird, when its
strength is almost exhausted, immerses its body, raises the point of its bill
above the surface, and in this manner makes its way among the plants, until
finding some safe retreat along the shore, it betakes itself to it, and there
remains, so that you may search for it in vain, unless you have a good dog.
Even on wing it is not easily shot. If on a creek ever so narrow, it will fly
directly towards its mouth, although you may be standing knee-deep in the
middle. It comes up like a ball, rises and passes over head with astonishing
speed, and if you shoot at it, do not calculate upon a hit. You may guess how
many one may shoot in a day.
When I removed from Pennsylvania to Kentucky, the Hooded Merganser was not
uncommon in the neighbourhood of Louisville during summer, and I told WILSON so.
On several occasions I caught the young with a partridge net; and let me assure
you, reader, that they are not yellow, as is alleged by some writers, but very
dark brown. Even when feathered they retain the same colour until the beginning
of August, when they gradually change it for the dress of the adult female.
Like all the rest of the tribe, which, when far north, for the want of
hollow trees, breed on the moss or ground, the Hooded Mergansers that remain
with us nestle in the same kind of holes or hollows as the Wood Duck; at least I
have found their nests in such situations seven or eight times, although I never
saw one of them alight on the branch of a tree, as the birds just mentioned are
wont to do. They dive as it were directly into their wooden burrows, where, on
a few dried weeds and feathers of different kinds, with a small quantity of down
from the breast of the female, the eggs are deposited. They are from five to
eight, measure one inch and three-fourths by one and three-eighths, and in other
respects perfectly resemble those of the Red-breasted Merganser.
The young, like those of the Wood Duck, are conveyed to the water by their
mother, who carries them gently in her bill; for the male takes no part in
providing for his offspring, but abandons his mate as soon as incubation has
commenced. The affectionate mother leads her young among the tall rank grasses
which fill the shallow pools or the borders of creeks, and teaches them to
procure snails, tadpoles, and insects. The eggs are laid in May, and the young
are out some time in June. On two occasions the parents would not abandon the
young, although I expected that the noises which I made would have induced them
to do so: they both followed their offspring into the net which I had set for
them. The young all died in two days, when I restored the old birds to liberty.
The Hooded Merganser, as well as all the other species with which I am
acquainted, moves with ease on the ground, nay, even runs with speed. Those
which leave the United States, take their departure from the first of March to
the middle of May; and I am induced to believe that probably one-third of them
tarry for the purpose of breeding on the margins of several of our great lakes.
When migrating, they fly at a great height, in small loose flocks, without any
regard to order. Their notes consist of a kind of rough grunt, variously
modulated, but by no means musical, and resembling the syllables croo, croo,
crooh. The female repeats it six or seven times in succession, when she sees
her young in danger. The same noise is made by the male, either when courting
on the water, or as he passes on wing near the hole where the female is laying
one of her egos.
The males do not acquire the full beauty of their plumage until the third
spring, but resemble the females for the first year. In the course of the
second, the crest becomes more developed, and the white and black markings about
the head and body are more distinct. The third spring they are complete, such
as you see the bird represented in the plate.
Dr. BACHMAN has favoured me with the following note respecting this
species:--"On the 19th April, 1838, at the plantation of Major Porches, on the
Santee river, in South Carolina, I obtained an old female Merganser and her five
young ones, the latter apparently from two to three weeks old. They were in a
very small pond, and could not be driven from it. As we approached, the female
sunk deep into the water, exhibiting only a very small portion of her back above
the surface, and swimming with neck outstretched and low along the water. In
endeavouring to drive the young to the high grounds, for the purpose of
capturing them, they all dived in various directions, like Grebes. On
conversing with an overseer, on the following day, he mentioned to me that he
had on the previous week obtained several of the young in order to domesticate
them, but having neglected to feed them on animal food they had all died. On
the following day I met with two other broods, each of five, and was also shewn
a cypress tree (Cupressus disticha) in the hollow of which a pair had been
breeding during the present season. As far as I could learn, they breed in
similar situations with the Summer Duck (Anas Sponsa), although generally a
little earlier. They were all peculiarly marked with two white spots behind the
wings on the back.
In an adult male, the width of the mouth is 7 1/2 twelfths; the palate is
flat, as is the anterior part of the roof of the mouth, on which are two
longitudinal series of slender oblique lamellae, besides the prominent
tooth-like plates of the margins, of which there are 33 on the upper and about
40 on the lower mandible, on each side. Tongue 1 1/2 inches long, and of the
same form as in the other species. OEsophagus 7 1/4 inches long, 1 inch in
width in the greater part of its extent, 1 inch 2 twelfths within the thorax.
The stomach is a gizzard of moderate strength, 1 1/2 inches long, 1 1/3 inches
in breadth; its lateral muscles large, being 7 twelfths in thickness; the
epithelium dense, tough, and forming two flat grinding surfaces. The
proventricular glands are very small, forming a belt 1 1/4 inches in breadth.
The intestine is 51 inches long, its width from 3 1/2 twelfths to 2 3/4
twelfths; the coeca 9 twelfths long, 2 twelfths wide, 3 inches from the
extremity; the rectum 5 twelfths wide, forming at the end a globular cloaca, 1
inch in width. Lobes of the liver nearly equal, 2 1/4 inches in length;
gall-bladder 1/2 inch long.
Trachea 6 1/2 inches long, much flattened, for 3 inches diminishing from 3
1/2 twelfths to 2 1/2 twelfths, then enlarging to 4 1/2 twelfths; from this
place to the tympanum it is of a trigonal form, with an acute carnia anteriorly,
and the rings are widely separated. There are 102 rings, besides s which are
united and form part of the tympanum, which is of an irregular form, projecting
anteriorly with a rounded bulge, and dilated on the left side, its greatest
breadth 9 twelfths. The bronchi are of moderate length, the left with 32, the
right with 26 half rings. The muscles as in the other species; the contractor
muscles exceedingly large at the lipper part.
MERGUS CUCULLATUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 397.
HOODED MERGANSER, Mergus cucullatus, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. viii. p. 79.
MERGUS CUCULLATUS, Hooded Merganser, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer.,vol. ii. p. 463.
HOODED MERGANSER, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 465.
HOODED MERGANSER, Mergus cucullatus, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iii, p. 246;vol. iv. p. 619.
Male, 19, 26. Female, 17 1/2, 24.
Breeds sparingly in South Carolina, along the Mississippi, Ohio, and the
Great Lakes, as well as farther northward. Abundant, during autumn and winter,
on all the western and southern waters; rarer in the Middle Atlantic Districts.
Bill about the length of the head, straight, somewhat cylindrical, deeper
than broad at the base. Upper mandible with the dorsal outline sloping gently
to the middle, then straight, along the unguis curved, the ridge broad at the
base, then convex, the sides sloping at the base, convex towards the end, the
edges serrated beneath, with twenty-five tooth-like lamellae directed backwards,
the unguis oblong, much curved, rounded at the end. Nasal groove oblong,
sub-basal, filled by a soft membrane; nostrils linear-elliptical, sub-medial,
direct, pervious. Lower mandible with the angle very narrow and extended to the
roundish unguis, the sides rounded, with a long narrow groove, the edges with
about twenty-five lamellae.
Head of moderate size, compressed, oblong. Neck rather short, body full
and depressed. Wings small. Feet placed far behind, extremely short; tibia
bare for a short space above the joint; tarsus extremely short, compressed,
anteriorly covered with scutella, and another row on the lower half externally,
the sides reticulate. Hind toe very small, with an inferior free membrane;
anterior toes double the length of the tarsus; second shorter than fourth, which
is nearly as long as the third, all connected by reticulated webs, of which the
outer is deeply cut; the outer toe slightly margined, the inner with a broad
marginal membrane. Claws short, considerably curved, compressed, acute, that of
the middle toe with a thin inner edge.
Plumage on the upper parts strong and imbricated, on the lower blended and
glossed; on the head and neck soft and blended, the feathers of the upper part
of the head elongated and capable of being erected into a long compressed
rounded crest, those of the shoulders very broad and elongated. Wings very
short, small, curved, and pointed; primaries narrow, tapering, the first
scarcely shorter than second, the rest rapidly graduated; secondaries short,
narrow, rounded, the inner elongated and tapering. Tail short, graduated, of
sixteen rounded feathers.
Bill black. Iris yellow. Feet yellowish-brown; claws dusky. Upper part
of the head, back, smaller wing-coverts, quills and tail, brownish-black; sides
of the head, upper half of the neck all round, the broad extremities of the
large feathers on the shoulders, the scapulars, inner secondaries, and larger
wing-coverts, greenish-black. A broad patch of white behind the eye, very
conspicuous in the erected crest. Lower part of neck and breast also white, as
are the speculum and the central part of the inner secondaries. Sides
beautifully marked with undulated transverse lines of yellowish-brown and
brownish-black; lower tail-coverts whitish, similarly undulated.
Length to end of tail 19 inches, to end of wings 16 3/4, to end of claws
18; extent of wings 26; wing from flexure 7 1/2; tail 4; bill along the ridge
1 11/12, along the edge of lower mandible 1 3/4; tarsus 1 1/4, middle toe
1 (9 1/2)/12, its claw 1/4. Weight 1 lb. 7 oz.
The female is much smaller than the male. The crest is smaller and of a
looser texture; the feathers of the shoulders not so large; those of the sides
shorter and more compact. The bill is brownish-black towards the end and along
the ridge, orange towards the base. The upper part of the head, including the
crest, yellowish-brown; chin whitish, upper part of neck and sides of the head
greyish-brown. The general colour of the back, upper surface of wings, tail,
and sides, is blackish-brown, the feathers edged with paler, the edgings of the
fore part of the back and shoulders larger and pale greyish-brown; speculum
greyish-white; breast and abdomen pale yellowish-brown.
Length to end of tail 17 1/2 inches, to end of claws 16 1/2; extent of
wings 24. Weight 1 lb.
The young resemble the female. The young males after their first moult
still resemble the female, but have the speculum and lower parts pure white.