Winter Wildlife: The Hooded Merganser

A male hooded merganser.

During this chilly season there are many winter birds and other wildlife to spot in and along the Chicago River system. A bird species that is a measure of the increasing health of the river system (profiled in the winter edition of the River Reporter ) is the hooded merganser, a small species of duck that frequents our area in winter.

Read More About the Hood Merganser

Hooded mergansers are native and common throughout southern Canada and the northern United States. Like many ducks, the male is brightly colored for courtship, while the female is more camouflaged. They are not long-distance migrators and will spend the winter anywhere where winter temperatures allow for ice-free conditions. The climate crisis is causing a shift in their range. At the current rate of temperature increase, both their summer and winter habitat would move several hundred miles northward over the next 30 years.

Mergansers are our only ducks that specialize in eating fish and will seek out good habitat; unpolluted open water alongside a shore covered with emergent aquatic vegetation. The merganser forages by diving underwater or searching among the vegetation and can remain submerged for up to two minutes. Here’s a short video of a hooded merganser eating a fish.

If you spot a hooded merganser, or any winter wildlife, please share photos or video with us at