Sunday’s Duck O’ the Week

Evolutionist John Avise is educating us, Sunday by Sunday, about the ducks of North America. Your job is to look at the pictures below, then go below the fold to see the ID, some duck facts, and a range map of the species. John’s introduction::

The drakes of this week’s species look like creatures that might have been dreamed up by Pablo Picasso.  But we have the hens to thank for wielding the paintbrush of sexual selection that presumably crafted the artistic plumages of these males.

Okay, name that duck!

Click “read more” to get the ID and other information.

The species: Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus)

Drakes of this surreally dressed duck are aptly named after a 17th-century Italian comedic stock actor who always dressed in variegated multicolored tights.  The species has an equally peculiar life history.  During the breeding season, these birds favor fast-flowing, high-latitude streams and whitewater stretches of rivers before moving to lakes and slower river sections after the chicks have hatched.  However, in the winter they are found primarily along rocky North Atlantic and North Pacific seacoasts, where they sometimes stand on boulders during the day and sleep offshore at night.  I took most of these photos at Monterey Bay in Central California, near the southern terminus of the species’ winter range.

And a range map from the Cornell site. John looks like he was just within the species’ range.



  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted July 5, 2020 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    We made a joke that the name of the duck is Batman the duck – (and my own serious wild guess was “ruddy”) imagine our surprise to learn it was Harlequin!

  2. rickflick
    Posted July 5, 2020 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    The Harlequin is right up there with the wood duck for Picassoesque glamor. I’m surprised at it’s preference for mountain streams. I see it breeds in Eastern Idaho. Maybe I’ll see one.

  3. Posted July 5, 2020 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Stephen Stills’ favourite duck, this one…

  4. Ryan Jorgensen
    Posted July 5, 2020 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Every winter, a handful of these will show up on Lake Michigan in Chicago! It’s always a treat to find them.

  5. flexilis
    Posted July 5, 2020 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    I knew it immediately. I have seen them in Yellowstone National Park. Lehardy Rapids on the Yellowstone river is a good place for them. Years ago on a backpack trip in the Wind River Mountains I saw Harlequins for the first time. I even gave their name (unofficially) to a small lake. They are fun to watch, diving underwater in the rapids. Also, they have one of the coolest scientific names.

  6. Posted July 6, 2020 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Harlequin duck! 🙂

  7. Posted July 10, 2020 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    Unless my map reading skills have deserted me, it doesn’t look like California is in it’s range at all. Like a good Oregonian, it wants nothing to do with California.

    Beautiful pictures, wish I could see one but they don’t come around here.

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