Hooded Merganser Hen

November 30, 2012

Last weekend, the day after Thanksgiving, I added a new species to my Forest Park photography list—the hooded merganser. It was my third morning in a row of before-daylight starts and I’d already sat for almost four hours waiting for a stubborn kingfisher. A northwest cold front was blowing through and I decided to stick around for another hour or two as long as the clouds continued to filter the sun’s rays. I hadn’t made one keeper image during the three mornings at Forest Park and just when I was beginning to feel like the set-up I’d been adjusting from day-to-day was wrong—yet again—I heard the jet engine roar of……divers? A second later, three hooded merganser hens dropped from the sky at my feet. As soon as they hit the water the lead bird swung around to get her bearings and gave me a great pose. I just put the center autofocus point on her eye and started clicking. I was lucky to catch her with her bill open enough to see the serrations that make this diving species lethal to fish. I’d never seen a merganser in Forest Park before but I immediately knew what I had as I’ve photographed them at other locations. Right after I captured this image all three of the tiny hens headed to the bank and began resting near some woody cover. They never moved from that position which was at an impossible angle for a shot. I assumed they were tired from flying all night.

The female hooded merganser is not even in the ballpark with the drake, looks-wise, but she is quite a sight with her copper-colored punk hair. I’ve attached an image of a drake for comparison (click on it to make it larger if you like) so you can see the dramatic gender contrast in the appearance of this species. I was hesitant to post a photo of the drake as it will likely steal some thunder from this sweet little hen. By the way, I photographed the drake at Marais Temps Clair Conservation Area and the image, my best ever for this species, has been featured in several publications. I like to use the drake image in workshops as an example of what can be done with a 300/4 lens for those who are unwilling or unable to commit to 500/4 which cost an additional $8000 to $9000. Using a 300/4 for duck and songbird photography requires much more preparation regarding your position and camouflage but it can be done if you are patient and persistent. Adding a 1.4 TC to the 300/4 is a big help but it really slows the autofocus down on my Canon, a problem for flight photography.

Hooded mergansers are a hoot to watch during the spring breeding season because the drake throws his head back and makes a loud grunt from his throat, kind of a guttural errr, errr. During that time he assembles his head feathers into a bizarre hour-glass shape. Spring is also a great time to witness some intense fighting between drake mergansers. These little sawbills can be downright vicious!

Please enjoy these merganser images as this species is much nicer to look at than to eat. I once tried to cook a merganser in a crock pot years ago and the result was a fishy-tasting, black pulp that reminded me of melted licorice…..disgusting!

Hen Hooded Merganser:  Canon 1DMarkIV; Canon 500/4 L IS with 1.4 TC; 1/200 @ f/5.6; ISO 400; RAW Capture; Gitzo GT3530LS Tripod with Wimberley II Head; Processed in Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP)

Drake Hooded Merganser:  Canon 40D; Canon 300/4 L IS; 1/500 @ f/4.5; ISO 200; RAW Capture; Feisol CT3301 Tripod with Markins M-10 Ballhead; Processed in Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP)

New Publication:  You might also enjoy my latest article in the December issue of  “Missouri Conservationist” on Woodland Voles. You can find it online at:  http://mdc.mo.gov/conmag/2012/12/plants-and-animals

Website Gallery Addition:  I just added a gallery to my website:  “The Wildlife of Forest Park.” Please take a look when you get a moment.

Thanks for Looking!



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8 comments on “Hooded Merganser Hen”

  1. That’s not a Hooded Merganser, it’s a Hairdo Merganser! Oh, how I’d like to see one for myself….I’ll hope for the best. Thanks a lot for this post (as for all others!) Deepa.

  2. Love both shots Danny. The hen has a true beauty of her own. Kev


  3. Hi Danny, I never seen a Hooded Merganser before. What a beautiful bird. I love the crown on the Hen. It reminds me of Kurt Wanner’s wife, years ago, when she whore her hair that way. The Drake is stunning. Thank’s for sharing.

    Art T.

  4. Great shot !! Enjoyed talking with you at the park Sat. morning.

    • Thanks Mike. I ended up getting a nice image of a goldfinch that had just taken a bath. I might use it next week. I’d love to get a kingfisher with a sculpin later this winter if I can find the right perch. I’ve got other kingfisher locations, but the sculpin factor at the park makes yours the best! Take care.


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