Immature Plumage

Top Photo: Adult male hooded merganser.

The next time you’re down in our wetlands, scrutinize the female mergansers. One of them may be a male.

Adult male hooded mergansers (photo above) are easy to pick out in a crowd. Their chestnut sides, black back, black and white breast, black and white crested head, and amber eye stand out, for sure.

Females are a bit more cryptically plumaged. They’re the ones who will be incubating the eggs inside a tree-cavity nest (or nest box), and trying to remain inconspicuous as they slip in and out of the cavity to eat and stretch.

Female hooded mergansers.

But, this post is about plumage, not nesting behavior. The immature males, the males hatched out last spring and summer, may wear a plumage very similar to females at this time of year, with subtle differences not easily noticed unless you’re looking for them.

Male hooded merganser in immature plumage.

Two field marks are all you need to distinguish between the female and immature plumaged male hoody. The male’s eyes are light-colored, orangey or amber, and their bills are black throughout, not orangish with a black tip as in female bills. Ligtht eye and dark bill in immature male, dark eye and light bill in female.

Immature male (left) and female hooded merganser.

So, if you’re walking through Explore the Wild and you see the mergansers swimming about, give a closer look at the less colorful females. See if you can spot a young male in the bunch.

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