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Friday, May 11, 2012


  Harlequin Ducks (Histrionicus histrionicus) at Cape Arago, Oregon

Harlequin Ducks are small diving ducks that winter along rocky coasts and breed along fast-flowing freshwater rivers and streams.  They are at home in both rough surf and in turbulent white water.

On 11 May 2012, these two males were roosting and preening on shore and diving for food in shallow water near kelp. 

In the photo below, note the striking coloration: overall slate blue-gray, strong white markings (often with black borders), and chestnut on the sides/flanks.  Look for the white crescent in front of the eye, the small white circle near the ear, thin white vertical stripe on the neck, and white stripes at the collar, breast, and back.

Although rare, Harlequin Ducks can also been seen around Bodega Head in winter.  Most of them have left the coast by mid-May en route to nesting areas in the Cascades (Oregon, Washington) and western Canada and Alaska.

Both the common name and the latin name (histrionics = theatrical, related to acting) refer to this duck's plumage being similar to a Harlequin, an actor in Italian comedy known for wearing a costume made of colorful patches.

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