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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote® The Hardy Harlequin

Air Date: Week of
Harlequin Ducks. (Photo: Lloyd Spitalnik©)

Histronicus histronicus, the North American waterfowl known as the Harlequin, is the only duck of its kind that breeds and eats along fast-flowing rivers and streams. Mary McCann has this BirdNote ® on the Harlequin's unusual behavior.



CURWOOD: There’s an unusual duck with an unusual name: Histrionicus histrionicus. And as BirdNote’s Mary McCann tells it, the bird, commonly known as the Harlequin, has some unusual behavior as well.


MCCANN: Some ducks don’t sound like ducks at all. Some, like the Harlequin, squeak, earning them the nickname of “sea mice.”


Harlequin duck pair. (Photo: Sarah Blackstone©)

MCCANN: Harlequins are unique in the duck world in other ways as well. Alone among North American waterfowl, Harlequins breed along fast-flowing rivers and streams. Quick and agile in rushing white water, they dive to the bottom of mountain streams for food.


MCCANN: What kind of a name is “Harlequin” for a duck? If you’re lucky enough to spot one of these rare birds in winter, perhaps along a rocky shoreline of Puget Sound in Washington or Penobscot Bay in Maine, you may guess the answer.


MCCANN: Dressed in multi-colored patches, Harlequin is the jester of traditional Italian comedy. The male duck with the jester’s name is just as striking, with his slate-blue feathers and vivid white, black, and chestnut markings.

Harlequin Ducks. (Photo: Lloyd Spitalnik©)

The rigorous lives of Harlequins require great adaptability – transitioning from fresh water to salt, from meals of caddis fly larvae to crabs and barnacles. Some, in fact, migrate by traveling directly downstream from the mountains to the ocean. Constant, however, is their unmatched ability to swim and feed in the turbulent waters where they live.




BirdNote® Hardy Harlequins was written by Todd Peterson

Calls of the Harlequin Duck provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by G.M. Bell


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