Making the Pair Bond

Intent on impressing the female, these three male mergansers strut their stuff.


Yes, it’s that time of year again when the male mergansers that call our Wetlands their winter home, strut their stuff in an effort to win the hearts of the females. The males perform pair bond displays in the fall and winter, pumping out their chests, shaking their black and white crested heads, rearing back and emitting rolling, croaking sounds.

It’s much more efficient for these ducks to form pairs during the winter. Time is critical during the breeding season. Pairing up during winter saves much time and effort. When the mergansers arrive on their breeding grounds in spring they get right to work nesting and raising their young, no wasting time sorting out who’s going to mate with who. It’s all taken care of ahead of time.

Hooded mergansers nest in tree cavities much like wood ducks. The female may lay 10 or 12 eggs inside the nest hole. Incubation begins when the last egg has been laid. It’s here that the male breaks the bond and leaves the nesting area.

Incubation averages 33 days. Within 24 hours of hatching the young mergansers leap out of the nest cavity, either to the water or ground. They then swim off, or march off to water, with the female. They spend the next few months or so learning how to be mergansers, what to eat, where to find it, and how to catch it.

Here’s a short video of the pair bond display:



You can witness the pair bond displays yourself right here in our Wetlands, with a closer view than at any other pond or lake in the area. Come on out and see it for yourself. There were about a dozen mergansers present on the day the video was shot. I counted 21 mergansers today (12/10).

Have fun!

2 responses to Making the Pair Bond

  1. Diana says:

    Thank you. There is no time for that stuff once the real jobs begin. I never knew about the timing.

    • Greg Dodge says:

      Yes, and once incubation begins it’s all left up to the female.

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