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Washington Kayak Club
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Harlequin Duck

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A second bird in a series on birds and mammals often encountered on the water by WKC paddlers

The smallish Harlequin duck thrives — like many WKC members — in fast-moving water. Classified as sea ducks, in winter Harlequins are found on intertidal rocks never far from breaking waves. Rushing water is in their DNA.

The Harlequin name derives from the costumed character originally of the medieval Italian court. Breeding males sport dark, blue-gray plumage, with chestnut sides and dazzling white marking on the face, neck, chest and back—harlequin indeed. 
Harlequin duck pair 

 

The Harlequin name derives from the costumed character originally of the medieval Italian court. Breeding males sport dark, blue-gray plumage, with chestnut sides and dazzling white marking on the face, neck, chest and back—harlequin indeed.

 

Females are dull brown, with white patches at the ear, eye and forehead. By July, post nesting, the males molt and resemble the females except for a bit of white on the wing. A flock may then resemble a group of female Bufflehead or Scoters. Males get their namesake plumage back in October. 

 

Harlequin ducks generally feed by shallow dives, searching the rocky bottom and sometimes tumultuous surf for invertebrates or an occasional small fish. In spring the adults move inland to nest aside mountain streams in the Olympics and Cascades. Newborn chicks run their first river while only hours old.

 

Harlequin ducks can be reliably found in Seattle, fall to early spring, at the rocks off Constellation Park in West Seattle (Alki).  Other good locations are Tongue Point (if you go surfing at Crescent Bay), Wildcat Cove at Larrabee State Park, or the west side of Whidbey Island. In spring, they stage on river gravel bars before heading for low to mid-elevation streams for nesting, so lucky white-water boaters can have exclusive encounters. Their conservation status is stable.

 

~ Gary Luhm

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