South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Harlequin Duck

Histrionicus histrionicus

Length: 15 to 20 inches Wingspan: 24 to 28 inches Seasonality: Extremely rare visitor
ID Keys: (Male) Striking pattern white lines and spots on a dark bluish body with rich chestnut sides.  Unmistakable.

Harlequin Duck - Histrionicus histrionicus The Harlequin Duck is a small duck of fast streams and rivers in the summer, and pounding coastal waters in the winter.  Studies on the species have shown that many adult birds have suffered broken bones in their past, obviously due to their preferred habitats.  They are generally only short distance migrants from the summer breeding locations, and thus are only very rare visitors to the deep interior of the continent.  The Birds of South Dakota (SDOU, 2001) lists only a single documented case of the species in South Dakota.  One was also seen below Oahe Dam near Pierre in the winter of 2003.

Habitat: In summer, they are found along fast moving streams and rivers, often in forested lands of Canada, Alaska, and the extreme U.S. Northwest.  During migration and winter, they are mostly found on the ocean, often in extremely rough coastal waters.

Diet: Primarily mollusks, crustaceans, and insects.  Will also feed on marine worms, small fish, and a small amount of plant material. 

Behavior: Uses a variety of techniques to forage for food, including diving and swimming underwater and dabbling on the water's surface.  Strongly associated with water, they usually tightly follow the course of a river in flight, rather than fly overland.

Breeding: Non-breeder in South Dakota.

Song: Usually silent, but both sexes have low croaks, and the male has quite squeaks during courtship.

Migration: Summers in Alaska, western Canada, and locally in the Northwest U.S., as well as locally in eastern Canada.  Winters along the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines, generally from the northern U.S. and along Canada and Alaska.  

Similar Species: The male is generally unmistakable, but the female is somewhat similar to a female Bufflehead.

Status: Populations in the western part of North America are generally stable, but eastern populations have declined substantially since 1900.

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Harlequin Duck

2) Cornell University's "All About Birds - Harlequin Duck"

3) eNature.com: Harlequin Duck

Photo Information: June 22nd, 2006 - Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, near Soldatna - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Harlequin Duck photos.

 

Click on the range map for a higher-resolution view
Range Map - Harlequin Duck
South Dakota Status: Extremely rare visitor, with only a few documented occurrences in South Dakota.