Over the past week and a half, I have regularly spotted Hooded Merganser pairs (Lophodytes cucullatus) on our small river. They are handsome little ducks, and readily identified as the male has a brilliant white patch on the back of his head. The female is quite different from the male, but equally interesting, with her grey face accented by a bushy rufus-brown crest. You can get an idea as to the size of these mergansers in the photograph below, in which a pair are swimming beside much larger Canada Geese.
Hooded Mergansers are secretive nesters, preferring secluded woodland stream locations. The female builds her nest in the cavity of a tree or occasionally, in a rock crevice or root hollow. The nest is constructed of dead weeds, roots and leaves, and lined with feathers and down. The pair bond lasts only for a few weeks, and once the female begins incubating her eggs, the male abandons her.
Hooded Merganser numbers, unlike those of many other bird species, have been on the rise in recent decades. The reason for this is not clear, but related factors may include the greater availability of manmade nest boxes and provincial guidelines that require tree harvesters on Crown land to retain a set minimum of cavity trees.