These are beautiful ducks filled with amazing color and patterns! Their little bodies are covered with very dense feathers which serve to keep them warm in the freezing northern waters. We were lucky to have a pair hanging out along the shore, right out our cabin window in Alaska. We found them to be quiet and shy, quick to move off when we approached, and hard to photograph because of their dark colors and the inclement weather.
The male Harlequin Duck is a small diving duck with a small bill, a short neck and a long tail. The male has a dark slate blue head with a white crescent spot at the base of his bill. He has chestnut colored sides and a slate blue belly. He has numerous white stripes bordered in black on his body, on his chest and neck, and a vertical stripe on his back. The black stripe on the top of his head is bordered in dark gold and white. The female is a drab dusty brown with a white patch near each eye, her belly is white. She may have small spots on the back of her neck. Both the male and female have white ear patches. The juvenile looks like the female but has a darker belly. In non-breeding plumage, the male looks like both the female and the juvenile but you will see a white shoulder stripe and white wings.
Range and Habitat
The Harlequin is found from Alaska, south to Wyoming and the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. It is also found on the east coast particularly in Maine. In summer it is found along swift moving streams and in the winter, along rocky coasts and jetties in heavy surf. It is more abundant in Alaska than anywhere else.
The Harlequin dives and feeds on small crabs, limpets, barnacles, mussels, stone flies and caddis flies. They also dabble and walk along the bottom. It is a shy duck and is seldom found with other ducks. It often swims with its long tail tilted upward or slowly raises it up and down. Its voice is mostly silent except for breeding when calls are noisy and high-pitched squeals and whistles. The Harlequin has low and rapid flight.
Breeding and Nesting
Pairs form in the winter and spring. The Harlequin Duck moves to ice cold turbulent and rock strewn streams for nesting. They often nest on islands in the streams or in dense willow thickets along the shore. The female will lay 6- 8 buff or cream colored eggs in a rock crevice and surround them by a nest of down. The male leaves the female when she starts to incubate the eggs but will join up with her later on the wintering grounds. The chicks leave the nest soon after they hatch but will remain close by for several weeks. Although they can feed themselves, the female leads them to food. They are able to fly within 5-6 weeks.