Bird Species of the World's Boreal Forests


Histrionicus histrionicus
Harlequin Duck


Distinguishing Features - Length: 35 - 51cm. Harlequins are one of the smaller sea ducks, they have smooth, densely packed feathers that trap air within, insulating them against the chilly waters they frequent, and making them exceptionally buoyant. The male is blue-gray, appearing black at a distance, with chestnut flanks, wedge on head and distinctive white patches on the head and body. Female is dusky-brown with three white patches on the sides of the face.


Harlequin Duck Palearctic, Nearctic, Oceanic Islands, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean: Alaska, Baffin Island, and Northern Quebec south to Labrador and California. They winter along the coasts of North America south to Long Island and central California. They also breed in Asia and Iceland. Harlequins prefer highly oxygenated stream and river water in the summer and wave-lashed rocky marine coasts in the winter.


Primarily freshwater invertebrates such as the larva of blackflies, stoneflies, caddisflies, and mayflies in mountain rivers; fish egg are also consumed when available. At their coastal home they use their stubby bills to pry invertebrates such as snails, limpets, crabs, chitons, and mussels from the rocks during the winter months. In the late winter months they feed on herring spawn in large congregations.


Harlequins are more often seen perched on rocks than any other sea duck. Unlike goldeneyes, buffleheads, and mergansers, which frequent calmer shorelines and customarily nap on the water, harlequin ducks in the choppy waters off rocky points and reefs expend considerable energy when they are on rough waters and cannot afford to sleep afloat. Perching on rocks saves energy reserves for staying warm and for vigorous bouts of feeding.

Return to Top of Page

Home | Forest Capital of Canada | About Our Website |
Ontario's North (West) Forest | Boreal Forests of the World | North (West) Forest Industry |
World Links and Resources | "Forest Finder" Search Engine | Educational Resources |
What's Happening | Contacts | Site Map |