The Harlequin Duck has an unusual pattern of habitat use and migration. It breeds along cold, fast-flowing mountain streams, but flies to the coast to spend the winter. Harlequin Ducks are excellent swimmers, able to cope with both fast currents and powerful surf, each of which they encounter at different times of the year.
Harlequin Ducks typically either don’t breed or they have poor success at breeding until they are five years old. They have been known to live over 10 years in the wild. Iceland is the farthest east that Harlequin Ducks breed, and is the only breeding location in Europe.
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Description of the Harlequin Duck
The Harlequin Duck is a small duck with a round head and a small bill.
-Dark gray breast and back, with white stripes on back.
-Black head with several white patches and a reddish strip above each eye.
– Length: 17 in. Wingspan: 26 in.
– Brownish with a white belly.
– White spot behind each eye and white patch in front of eye.
Seasonal change in appearance
Eclipse plumage males resemble females.
Similar to adult females.
Mountain streams in summer and coastal areas in winter.
Mollusks, crustaceans, and insects.
Forages by diving or dabbling.
Breeds in Alaska, western and northeastern Canada, and parts of the northwestern U.S., and winters along the east and west coasts.
Bent Life History
Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Harlequin Duck.
The shape of a bird’s wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species’ identification.
- Male, Washington, Sept.
- From below
- Female, Washington, Jan.
- From below
- Male, juvenile, Washington, Sept.
- From below
Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History
Harlequin Ducks spend a large portion of the day sleeping and resting.
If the male and female of a pair end up at the same wintering ground, they will pair up again for the subsequent breeding season.
The calls consist of un-duck-like, high, squeaking noises.
- Males are unmistakable, while female scoters have much larger bills.Female Bufflehead
Female Buffleheads have a dark face and single, eliptical white mark on the side of the head.
The nest is usually a shallow depression lined with plant material and down, although tree cavities are occasionally used.
Incubation and fledging:
– Young hatch at 27-30 days.
– Young fledge (leave the nest) shortly after hatching, but remain with the female for some time.
Bent Life History of the Harlequin Duck
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Harlequin Duck – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
HISTRIONICUS HISTRIONICUS HISTRIONICUS (Linnaeus)
The harlequin duck is a rare bird on the Atlantic coast of North America, where its chief summer home is in Labrador and Ungava. Comparatively little is known about. it even there, as very little thorough ornithological work has been done in that largely unexplored region. But in western North America the species is widely distributed and in some sections of Alaska, notably the Aleutian Islands, it is very abundant. W. Sprague Brooks (1915) has recently separated the western bird, as a distinct subspecies, under the name pacificus. As this seems to be a well-marked form with a distinctly separate range, I have compiled a separate life history for it. Except for the descriptions of the eggs and plumages, which are the same for both forms, the following remarks refer mainly to the Atlantic form.
Spring: Mr. Lucien M. Turner’s notes state that: They arrive at Fort Chimo by the 25th of May and then frequent the smaller fresh-water ponds and lakes. They retire to the seashore by the 5th of June, or even earlier If the ice has cleared from the beach. The outlying islets are favorite places in the earlier days after their arrival ; but when the water is mostly clear of ice they prefer the rugged shores of the larger islands and shores of the mainland where the reefs and jagged, sunken rocks are to he found; these birds are rarely to be seen along shingly beaches unless they may be merely passing from one point to another.
He says of their behavior:
The males are extremely pugnacious and quickly resent the approach of another male toward their mates. They flop through the water with surprising speed toward the intruder with open mouth, uttering a hissing sound, and seize tire offender by the body and quickly pluck out a beakful of feathers if the pursued bird does not dive or flutter away.
Nesting: Audubon (1840) claims to have found them breeding on islands in the Bay of Fundy; he writes:
There they place their nests under the bushes or amid the grass, at the distance of 20 to 30 yards from the water. Farther north, in Newfoundland arid Labrador, for example, they remove from the sea, and betake themselves to small lakes a mile or so in the interior, on tire margins of which they form their nests beneath tire bushes next to the water. Tire nest is composed of dry plants of various kinds, arranged in a circular manner to the height of 2 or 3 inches, and lined with finer grasses. The eggs are five or six, rarely more, measure 2~ 1/16 by 1 9/16 inches, and are of a plain greenish-yellow color. After the eggs are laid, the female plucks the down from the lower parts of her body and places it beneath and around them, in tire same manner as the eider duck and other species of this tribe.
Dr. C. Hart Merriam (1883) contributes the following:
While in Newfoundland last winter I learned that these birds, xvlrich are here called “lords and ladies,” are common summer residents on tire islarr’l, breeding along the little-frequented watercourses of tire interior. I was also informed, by niany different people, that their nests were built in holloxv trees, like tire wood duck’s with us. Mr. James P. Hoxvley, geologist of Newfoundlarrd, lies favored me ~vith the following response to a letter addressed to him air this subject: ” I received your irote inquirirrg about the harlequin duck, but delayod answering it till tire arrival of one of our Irrdians. It is quite true the birds nest in hollow stuarps of trees, usually err islets in tire lakes or tarns of tire interior. They usually frequent the larger lakes arid rivers far frorri tire seacoast, but are also found scattered till over the courrtry.”
Most of the eggs of the harlequin duck in collections caine from Iceland, where the species breeds abundantly and xvhere many nests have been found. John G. Millais (1913) gives the following attractive quotation ±rom Ileimachneider, illustrating the behavior and nesting habits of this species in Iceland:
This is the finest of all the species here. Their movements both on land and water are quick, skillful, and graceful; they run swiftly on dry land, and their gait reminds one very little of the waddling of other ducks, but in walking the small head with its beautiful beak is stretched rather forward, and the long tail pointing downward, with the proportionately slender body and the peculiar coloring, all give this bird a rallier foreign allirearance. though certainly not an unlovely cue. The plumano of this small duck cirarnosh me particularly v~ hen I saw i~ swimming upstream with unparalleled swiftness through the frothing foam of the Laxa, winding about through the eddies of the strongest breakers, and making use of the quieter places in the most skillful way. I then always had in mind the other much less common Icelandic name Brindufa (breaker dove). I have never seen the harlequin duck make an even temporary stay en the lake, but they always keep to the swiftly flowing rivers of the neighborhood; e. g., on the Laxa, where I visited a small breeding colony near the Helluvad farm. When I came to this place on June 24 I was several times obliged, in order to reach the nests, to ride through the water of the river to a series of small heath-overgrown rock islands upon which the ducks breed. Here I found, in addition to several nests of the Fall gala mania, four nests of the F. his tnionica; it is certain that there were still more nests to be found close to. I put the number of pairs nesting at this place at from 10 to 12. The first nest, standing under a thick clump of heath, had a sort of bank of dry heath around the shallow hollow of the site of the nest. This hollowed-out basin contained the first half-finished lining of gray down mingled with fine dry grass. In the nest lay five eggs. which I took away, and which proved not to have been sat on at all. This nest had been hitherto untouched by human beings, but not so the others which I saw, and which had already lost some of their eggs. The next nest showed exactly the same construction, and in this the down lining was still altogether wanting. This one contained only two eggs. While the two first nests we have just described were some paces from the edge of the island, the next, unprotected by heath growth, was placed on a small piece of rock jutting out over the river. The basin contained a complete lining of gray down mixed with grass, and the loose edge of this was carefully pulled down over three eggs which were in the nest. The duck flew away from the fourth nest which I visited as soon as I was quite close to It, and this one again was placed more in the middle of the island under a clump of heath, and xvas very plentifully lined with down with an unusually small admixture of parts of plants; it contained three eggs.
The down in the harlequin duck’s nest is “olive brown” or “drab,” with rather large, but not very conspicuous, whitish centers. Small whitish breast feathers, with a pale brownish central spot and pale brownish tip, are usually found in the down.
Eggs: The harlequin duck lays from S to 10 eggs, usually about 6. The shape varies from bluntly ovate to elongate ovate, and some eggs are quite pointed. The shell is smooth and slightly glossy. The color varies from “light buff” or “cream color” to paler tints of the same. The measurements of 90 eggs, in various collections, average 57.5 by 41.5 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 61 by 42.5, 59 by 44, 52 by 39, and 56.2 by 37.5 millimeters.
Young: Jncubation is performed entirely by the female, who also assumes full care of the young. Audubon (1840) writes:
The male leaves her to perform the arduous but, no doubt to her, pleasant task of hatching and rearing the brood, and, joining his idle companions, returns to the seashore, where he molts in July and August. The little ones leave the nest a few hours after they burst the shell, and follow their mother to the water, where she leads them about with the greatest care and anxiety. When about a week old she walki with them to the sea, where they continue,
In the same manner as the elders. When discovered in one of these small Inland lakes, the mother emits a lisping note of admonition, on which she and the young dive at once, and the latter make for the shores, where they conceal themselves, while the former rises at a good distance, and immediately taking to wIng, leaves the place for awhile. On searchIng along the shores for the young, we observed that, on beIng approached, they ran to the water and dived toward the opposite side, continuing theIr endeavors thus to escape, until so fatigued that we caught four out of six. When at sea, they are as difficult to be caught as the young elders.
Mr. Millais (1913) says that the period of incubation is said to be three and one-half weeks.
It is presumed that the young are at first fed by the old bird direct from the bill, as newly hatched young always hold their hills upward to the beak of the foster parent, and will not at first pick up food for themselves. At first the food is principally the larvae of Ephcrnerae. The down peridd of the young is said by Faber to be about 40 days.
Mr. 0. J. Murie has sent me the following interesting notes on the behavior of young harlequin ducks:
The harlequins acquire their love for rough water early, for the young are brought up among the rapids of northern rivers. Several broods of these ducklings were found on the Swampy Bay River, In northern Ungava. I saw the first family one day when we had paddled across the swift current above a rapid, to hunt for a portage. As we floated into a sheltered eddy near shore, a band of ducklings swam quietly out past our canoe. They appeared singularly unconcerned and unafraid. At first I did not recognize them as harlequins and they all looked the same size to me. But one of the Indians declared one of them was the mother. They swam around the base of a huge bowlder and headed deliberately Into the swift water. In astonishment I watched them go bouncing down the rapid, around the bend out of sight.
A few days later I witnessed a still better exhibition. We stopped to camp at the head of a rapid which culminated In an abrupt fall of 20 or 30 feet. Here we found some more harlequins. I got two young and the mother between me and the fall and attempted to corner them for a photograph. There was hut a narrow lane of comparatively Quiet water near shore. As I neared the little group the mother flew upstream, and the little ones spattered up over the water, actually entering the edge of the swift current in order to get by me. Upon repeating the performance several times, I had an opportunity to perceive their wonderful knowledge of currents and their skill in navigating them. Finally, when pressing them close for a near approach, they again entered the swift water. At the same time the mother came flying low and passed downstream. This time the youngsters were evidently caught, for the current carried them out of sight over the falls. With a feeling of remorse I looked below. I had not Intended to be the means of their destruction. At first I could distinguish nothing among the ripples and the foamflecked current below. Then I saw them floating along, rising to shake the water from their down, then quietly preening themselves. Although they had clearly endeavored to avoid the falls, they were none the worse for the accident when It did happen.
Plumages: The downy young is “bister” or “Prout’s brown” above, including the top of the head down to the level of the eyes, he lores, hind neck, back and rump; the under parts, including the cheeks up to the eyes, are pure white; there is a white spot above and in iront of the eye and an indistinct whitish streak on each scapular region; the front of the wing is margined with white. The juvenal plumage comes in first on the flanks and scapulars; the former are, at first, “olive brown” with white tips and the latter are “warm sepia.”
In the juvenal plumage in the fall the young male resembles the adult female, but can be recognized by the looser texture of the plumage, the worn tail, the gray instead of brown flanks, and by having less white on the breast. J. G. Millais (1913) says:
Toward the end of November the young male begins to assume the adult dress rapidly; the tail and tail coverts are replaced by adult feathers; a tinge of burnt sienna appears on the long flank feathers; the wing cove rts, the scapulars, mantle, and the whole of the adult feathers on head and neck come in, so that by the end of January a young male in my possession is almost like an adult, except for the smaller black and white bars on the sides of the chest, a brown rump and bill, mottled and immature under parts, and immature wings.
The change then proceeds very slowly. From specimens in Mr. Schioler’s collection it is clear that the male harlequin follows the same course of plumage as the long-tailed duck and the goldeneye. A greater or lesser part of the immature under parts are shed between the months of March and June, and the last signs of immaturity in the shape of the wings are not shed until late July or August, when the young male goes into an eclipse similar to the adult male. By September the new wings are obtained and the portions that were assumed as eclipse are being shed, so that it is not until November: that is, at 14 months: that the young male stands in full dress. It will breed in the following spring.
This does not agree with what specimens I have seen, which indicate that the young male makes but little progress toward maturity during his first year. Among the large flocks of immature males which we saw in the Aleutians in June very few birds showed anything approaching the adult plumage, and most of them could hardly be distinguished from females, except at very short range. Most of the specimens seen and collected were in worn immature plumage, dull brown above, with lighter edgings, wholly mottled below, and with varying amounts of the slaty feathers and the white markings of the adult on the head. Perhaps these were especially backward birds, and others, which we took to be adults, were normal or advanced young birds; but the latter were certainly in a very small minority.
The young female requires about the same time to reach maturity: about 16 months. Mr. Millais (1913) says:
There seems to be less difference between the young and adult female harlequin than almost any of the diving ducks. Yet the immature female, prior to February, when the new tail is assumed, can always be recognized by the worn ends and lighter colors of the tail and under parts. The under parts are not nearly so broadly speckled as the adult, and there is a greater area of white. The flanks are grayer, and have a sandy tinge. Also the white spaces about the eye are always more heavily edged with slaty-brown.
I should add to this that in the young female the head is usually duller brown and the feathers of the back show more light edgings.
Of the eclipse plumage Mr. Millais (1913) says:
The whole plumage of the adult male in eclipse is a uniform dark slate gray, the head and neck being somewhat darker, as well as the rump, under and upper tail coverts, which are almost bla~k; the single white ear covert spot is retained, and the white space in front of the eye is dull white, both these parts being edged with black; long scapulars, lower neck, upper and lower flanks, sooty brown; about the end of August the wings and tail are shed (as usual only once). Like all the diving ducks, the male harlequin is practically in a state of molt from July 1 u~ ii it reaches the full winter plumage early in October.
Food: Most of the harlequin duck’s food is obtained by diving, but much of it is picked up along the shores or about the rocky ledges. On the inland streams where it breeds it consists largely of water insects and their larvae, among which the caddis fly is prominent; it. also includes fish spawn, small fishes, small frogs, tadpoles, small fresh-water crustaceans and mollusks, and some aquatic plants. On the seacoast it feeds on similar kinds of marine animal life which it picks up on the kelp-covered rocks at low tide or obtains by diving in the stIFf along the shore or over the ledges; it apparently does not often dive for its food in deep water. The common black mussel (AL ytelua edulis) is one of its main food supplies; these mollusks grow in immense beds on shallow ledges and are easily obtained; occasionally a large mussel has been known to trap the duck and cause its death by drowning. Small crustaceans, such as sand fleas and small gasteropods, are also picked up.
R. P. Whitfield (1894) gives the following account of the contents of a bird’s stomach, taken on Long Island:
In December, 1893, Mr. William Dutcher brought to me the stomach contents of a harlequin duck (Histrioaicux histrionicus) shot at Montauk Point, Long Island, about the 3d of the month. An examination of the material showed what an )ndustrious collector the bird must have been, for it had in its crop remains of no less than three individuals of the small mud crab of our coast, Peaopeus depres.~e Smith, one carapace being almost entire; besides remains of some other forms of Crustaceans. Of the little shell Coleozbcila innate (Astyris lunate of the Fish Commission Reports), there were no less than 39 individuals represented, besides several small Littorinas. This shell is seldom more than one-sixth of an inch long, and is usually quite rare on our shores. It could only have been obtained in such numbers by a sort of sifting of the bottom mud of the bays by the duck, and indicates how carefully the process had been carried on in order to obtain so small an article of food.
Behavior: Mr. Millais (1913) describes the flight of this species as follows:
The beautiful markings of the male of this species are only noticeable when the observer is close at hand, so that they are not the easiest duck to identify except when In flight. The flight, at first somewhat laborious, is very rapid. The short, pointed wings are beaten swiftly, and the bird constantly swings from side to side, even more frequently than the long-tailed duck. The elevalion is moderately high, performed at an altitude similar to the goldeneye, but when passing up or down stream it zigzags and turns, to accommodate its line to every bend of the stream, however slight. The harlequin never thinks of cutting off corners, and it would seem that it imagines its lift’ depends on keeping exactly over the water, however much it bends or twists. I have seen harlequins fly religiously above a bend In a stream that formed almost a complete circle in its course, and yet the birds did not cut across it to shorten their route.
I have watched harlequin ducks in flight many times and have shot quite a few of them, but I never noticed any swinging from side to side, as referred to above, and several writers have referred to their flight as straight. They usually fly close to the water and often in such compact flocks that a large number may be killed at a single shot. They also swim in close formation, sometimes with their bodies almost touching.
Walter H. Rich (1907) says:
If a shot is fired at a flock on the wing they will sometimes plunge from the air into the water and after swimming below the surface again take wing, coming up a hundred yards away: seeming, the instant they reappear, to dash from the depths into the air at full speed. leaving the gunner inexperienced in their ways, and who perhaps bad thought that by some miraculous chance he had killed the entire flock, to find that he doesn’t care for that kind of dock after all. I passed through just such an experience once, and remember yet how disgusted and surprised I was when after steaming up to where the whole flock sliouhi have been dead: no duck: and what may have been their ghosts rising from their watery graves 60 yards away.
Harlequin ducks are fond of feeding in rough water along rocky shores or in the surf just off the beaches, where they ride the waves lightly and dive through the breakers easily and skillfully. They. dive so quickly that they often escape at the flash of a gun. In diving the wings are usually half opened as if they intended to use the wings in flight under water, which they probably do.
The peculiar whistling note of this duck has been likened to the cry of a mouse, whence it has been called the ” sea-mouse ” on the coast of Maine. Mr. Bretherton (189(1) describes it as “‘a shrill whistle descending in cadence from a high to a lower note, coinmencing with two long notes and running off in a long trill.” Mr. Millais (1913) writes:
When first arriving at the breeding grounds in flocks in early May they are very restless, constantly flying to and fro, whilst the females utter their usual call of Ek-ek–ek-ek,” to which the males respond with a low or hoarse “flu” or “Heh-lieh.” These calls they also frequently make in winter, and I have heard single females uttering their cry constantly when flying, as if they had lost their companions an(l were seeking them. When they are paired both sexes utter a different note, Gi-uk.” and this note is used at all times when the pair meet, until the males leave the females at the end of June.
Mr. Aretas A. Sauntleis writes me:
I heard these birds call several times. Tue call note is usually uttered when on the wing. It sounded to me like ‘ op-oy-oy-oy ” la pidly repeate(l, usually seven or eight times. I never heard the mite from any hut the males, and it was usually uttei’ed ~vhen in pursuit of one of the females.
Winter: The winter home of the harlequin duck is on the seacoast. On the Atlantic coast they are not common south of Maine and not abundant even there. They are often seen about the rocky bays of the eastern Provinces in winter, but. more often they frequent the outlying rocky islands and ledges. In spite of the brilliant coloring of the males they are surprisingly inconspicuous among the kelp-covered rocks and the \vet, shiny seaweeds of varied hues. On the Atlantic coast they are widely known as ” lords and ladies.” and by the French inhabitants of Quebec they arc called ” canards des roches” or “rock ducks.” They usually flock by themselves in small flocks. but are frequently associated with oldsquaws.
Breeding range: Iceland, southern Greenland (north on the east coast to Scoresbv Sound and on the west coast to Upernavik), the Labrador Peninsula (Nain, Lance an Loup. Fort Chimo, etc.). and Newfoundland (Hawks Bay, etc.). Birds said to breed in the Ural Mountains and the Yaroslav Government may be of this subspecies, but the breeding birds of eastern Siberia are probably referable to pac~.ftcus.
Winter range: The Atlantic. coast of North America, south regularly to the Bay of Fundy and the coast of Maine, more rarely to Long Island Sound and casually farther south.. Resident in Iceland.
Spring migration: Atlantic coast birds retire. northward in February and some reach Greenland in March. Arrive at Fort Chimo, Ungava, May 25. Seen in the Gulf of St. Lawrence as late as May 29.
Fall migration: Early dates of arrival: Maine. October 19: Massachusetts, November 1: Rhode Island, November 28.
Casual records: Rare or casual on Lake Ontario (Toronto. October 20, 1894, and December 4, 1920). Accidental as far sout.h as South Carolina (Mount Pleasant, January 14: 16. 1918) and Florida (Pensacola, March 20, 1q86). Rare or casual in Scandinavia, Russia, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Great Britain.
Egg dates: Iceland: Twenty-three records, May 20 to July 9; twelve records, June 6 to 30. Labrador: Two records, June 3 and 10. Greenland: One record, June 24.
PACIFIC HARLEQUIN DUCK
HISTRIONICUS HISTRIONICUS PACIFICUS Brooks
I had always supposed that the harlequin duck was a compara tively rare and somewhat solitary species until I visited the Aleutian Islands in the summer of 1911; here we found this subspecies to be one of the commqpest and most widely distributed of the ducks; we saw them in large or small flocks about all of the islands wherever they could find the rocky shores that they love to frequent. I saw more harlequin ducks here in one day than I have ever seen elsewhere in my whole life. Most of the birds were in large flocks, some of them in immense flocks, but they were also frequently seen in pairs, feeding about the kelp-covered rocks at low tide, among which they were surprisingly inconspicuous and were easily approached. Even the large flocks were not wild or shy, and we had no difficulty in shooting all we wanted. The large flocks were made up almost wholly of females and immature males, but they were usually led by two or three adult males. The presence of mated pairs and some small flocks of adult males led us to suppose that they were breeding there, perhaps back in the interior in the rocky canyons of the moun tain streams, but we found no signs of nests around the shores.
Similar gatherings of harlequin ducks are found all summer about the Pribilof Islands and all along the southern coasts of Alaska and British Columbia, as far south as Puget Sound. Nearly all, if not all, of these birds are probably immature birds which are not yet ready to breed, or unmated or barren birds, mainly the former.
Some may be birds which have bred early, have lost their broods or their mates, and have returned to join their fellows in these summer flocking resorts, which are practically the same as the winter resorts.
The migrations of this species do not amount to much more than a brief withdrawal into the interior during the nesting season.
Courtship: The best account that I have seen of the courtship of this species is by B. J. Bretherton (1896), as follows:
The writer has often watched the males in spring, calling, and the actions of these birds may justly be said to resemble the crowing of a rooster. In giving forth their call the head is thrown far back with the bill pointed directly up ward and widely open; then with a jerk the head is thrown forward and down ward as the cry Is uttered, and at the same time the wings are slightly ex panded and drooped. Afterwards they will rise in the water and flap their wings.
Charles W. Michael (1922), who has had exceptional opportunities to study the behavior of harlequin ducks at short range, describes another courtship performance, as follows:
When the birds appeared in front of camp on the morning of April 12 they were acting strangely. Apparently they were making love. They were bobbing and bowing to one another, swirling around, touching their bills together, and uttering little chatty sounds. One of the moves on the female’s part was to slowly submerge her body until just her head and neck appeared above the surface of the water: a bold invitation on her part for attention. In spite of the wanton actions of the female, the love-making failed to reach the climax.
Nesting: I have never found the nest of the harlequin duck, and I infer that few others have succeeded in doing so in North America, for surprisingly little is to be found in print about the nesting habits of this species. None of the well-known Alaskan explorers speak 6f finding nests, except Turner (1886), who says:
The nest and eggs were not procured, and the only nest I ever saw was near Iliuliuk village, on Unalaska Island. Two immense blocks of rock had become detached from the cliff above, and when they fell their edges formed a hollow place beneath. In under this I discovered a deserted nest, which the native who was with me asserted was that of a bird of this species. The form was similar to that of the nest of C. hyernalis. and in fact so closely resembled it that I persisted in it being of this bird until the native asked me if I did not know that the oldsquaw did not build in such places.
Major Bendire wrote to Dr. P. G. Elliot (1898):
The harlequin duck undoubtedly nests both in our mountain ranges in the interior: Rockies and Sierra Nevadas: as well as on many of the treeless Islands of the Alaskan Peninsula and the Kurile Islands, and I have not the least doubt that it breeds both in hollow trees, where such are available, and either on the ground or in holes made by puffins where It can find such, not far from water.
Dr. E. W. Nelson (1887) writes of the breeding haunts of this species:
Among the host of waterfowl which flock to the distant breeding grounds of Alaska in spring, this elegantly marked bird is the most graceful and handsomely colored. As if conscinna ef its beauty. the harlequin (luck leaves the commonplace haunts sought by the crowd of less noble fowls, and along the courses of the clear mountain streams, flowing in a series of rapids into the larger rivers, they consort with the water ouzel, Swainson~s thrush, and such other shy spirits as delight in the wildest nooks, even in the remote wilderness of the far noUb. Dark lichen-covered rocks, affording temporary shelter to the broad-finned northern grayling or the richly colored salmon trout as they dart from rapid to rapid, steep banks overhung by willows and alders, with an occasional spruce, forming a black silhouette against the sky, and a stillness broken only by the voices of the wind and water, unite to render the summer home of these birds, along the Yukon, spots devoted to nature alone, whose solitude Is rarely broken, and then only by the soft footsteps of the savage In pursuit of game.
Mr. D. E. Brown has sent me the following note:
On May 7, 1924, a fisherman flushed a female western harlequin duck from a set of seven eggs. This nest was near Port Angeles, Clallani County, Washington, and was on a rocky point of a swift running mountain stream.
Eggs: Eggs of the Pacific harlequin duck are scarce in collections, and I have no measurements available for comparison, but they probably do not differ essentially in color, shape, or size from those of the Atlantic bird.
Plumages: The sequence of molts and plumages of this western subspecies are apparently the same as those of its eastern relative.
Behavior: Aretas A. Saunders writes me from Montana that:
While fishing they sit in midstream, facing the current, often where it is swiftest, paddling just enough to keep themselves stationary. Whenever they see a fish, they dive for it, and usually appear again, a considerable distance downstream with the fish. They dive down into the middle of swift rapids, in places where one would expect them to be dashed in pieces against the rocks, yet they always emerge again, unharmed. Whenever the birds go downstream they usually swim down, and from what I have observed, do this largely under water. As soon as they come to the surface they generally turn and face the current. I have iiever seen them swim upstream, even where the water is not swift, and believe that when they wish to go upstream they nearly always rise and fly. One afternoon I watched a male bird fishing at the edge of a large pool where the water was not swift. He took up a position to watch at the edge of the pool, standing with his feet and under parts in the water but his head and breast out. From this position he dove after fish ~vhenever he saw them, but I could not make out that he was always successful in catching the fish.
Mr. Michael (1922) says:
Harlequins are expert swimmers and divers. They dive and swim under water with all the ease of a grebe, besides possessing the ability of the water ouzel to walk about on the river bed against the swift currents. When feeding, so far as we xvere able to observe, they show no preference as to depth of water. When working upstream along the shore they xvade in the shallow xvater, prying among the stones. Where the water is deeper they tip up in the manner of mallard ducks, and where the water is still deeper they dive. They dive in water a foot deep and they dive in water 6 feet deep, always going down where there is a gravelly bottom. Most often they stay under water not more than 15 seconds. Often they stay down 20 seconds, and occasionally they remain under the water as long as 25 seconds. To leave the surface of the water they use their wiry tails as a spring to make the plunge and as they go down both wings and feet are used as a medium of propulsion. When once on the gravelly bottom the wings are closed, the head is held low, and the progress is made against the current, as they walk along poking amongst the stones. When coming to the surface they float up like bubbles, without movement of wings or feet. Their bills break the water and their bodies pop suddenly onto the surface where they rest a moment. While poising on the surface between plunges their bodies float high. When earnestly feeding, seldom more than 10 seconds elapse between plunges. The birds seldom dive simultaneously. The female usually acts first.
At times the harlequins choose the swiftest riffles, and when feeding there their method is the same as when in the less joyous waters. They apparently dive from any position with equal ease, but always as they go down they turn upstream, and even in the swiftest currents they come up in about the same spot at which they went down. When feeding in these racing waters they merely hesitate on the surface, and four or five dives are made In rapid succession. Such work as this is strenuous, but the birds are quite at home in the swiftest currents, and when tired front their exertions they swing into an eddy behind some snag or bowider and rest as they bob about on the surface.
M. P. Skinner writes to me that they have been observed coasting down on the Yellowstone River almost to the brink of the Lower Falls, 308 feet high, and then, when it seemed as if they would surely go over, they would fly upstream again and rel)eat the performance.
Game: As a game bird the harlequin duck is of little importance. It is a comparatively rare bird, or entirely unknown, in most of the regions frequented by gunners; and even where it is fairly common its haunts are rather inaccessible. Moreover, it lives so largely on animal food that its flesh is not particularly palatable. Among the natives of the Aleutian Islands and other parts of Alaska, however, large numbers are killed for food. Mr. Bretherton (1896) describes the method of hunting employed by the natives of Kodiak Island, as follows:
When first the writer went to Kodiak lie tried bunting with n boat, relying on wing shooting to get his birds, hut without runch success and seeing that the natives always got more birds, lie cliangeti his plan and took to the natives’ nietbod, as follows When a band of ducks was seen feeding, a lauding was made and the beach approached from the land, the hunter being careful not to be seen. By watching the flock it would lie seen that they nil dived about the sante tune, and die time they remained down was about the same length each time. When the last duck dives, the hunter ruits toward theta, dropping in the grass or tieltind a rock about the time lie calculates the first duck should lie coming uii again. In this manner lie can approach close to the flock, that nearly always feed in the shallow water along the shore. Wheti the last run is made, the Ituitter, if nit old band, stands on the edge of the water, the gun at ready,” and a couple of extra shells in the hollow of his right hand, the flock nil being down. The first duck that conies up gets it, and the second one gets the second barrel, and in this way, by sharp practice, it is often possible to hag six or seven out of one flock.
Breeding range: ‘Western North America and northeastern Asia. East in northwestern Canada probably to the Mackenzie Valley and Great Slave Lake, but nowhere else east of the Rocky Mountain region. South in the Rocky Mountain region to Montana (Glacier National Park, Chief Mobntain Lake, etc.), Wyoming (Shoshone River), and Colorado (Blue River near Breckenridge). West to central California (west slope of Sierra Nevada Mountains) and Washington (Cascade and Selkirk Mountains) and the mountain regions of British Columbia, and Alaska (Sitka region, Sanakh Island, etc.). Westward throughout the Aleutian, Commander, and Kurile Islands. Probably on St. Matthew and St. Lawrence Islands. West in Siberia to Lake Baikal and the Lena River and east to Kamchatka and northeastern Siberia (Providence Bay, Marcova, etc.). North in summer and probably breeding to the Arctic coasts of Alaska (Barter Island) and Canada (Mackenzie Bay).
Winter range: Mainly on the seacoasts, but also on inland waters, not far from the southern parts of its breeding range. Winters sparingly in its Rocky Mountain breeding range; other interior records are regarded as casuals. On the Pacific coast south to central California (Monterey Bay) and north to the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands. On the Asiatic side from the Commander Islands south to Japan.
Spring migration: First arrivals reached Fort Simpson, Mackenzie, on May 25, 1904. Usually arrives at the mouth of the Yukon, Alaska, about June 1. A late date for Pierce County, Washington is June 5, 1915.
Fall migration: Early dates of arrival: Washington, Kitsap County, September 10; California, San Louis Obispo County, October 8.
Casual records: Rare or accidental in the interior as far south as Nebraska (Omaha, September 16, 1893 and 19, 1895) and Missouri (St. Louis, October 29, and Montgomery County, March 21, 1897).
Egg dates: Alaska: Four records, June 13 to July 1. Mackenzie Bay: One record, June 20. Montana: One record, June 10.
Washington: One record, May 7.