Hooded mergansers and common goldeneyes spotted in Orrington

As the ice begins to melt on our streams and rivers, ducks and other birds are taking advantage of the newly opened fishing grounds. Recently, wildlife photographer Sharon Fiedler showed me a spot in Orrington where ducks like to hang out, but by the time we arrived there, it was too dark to make out what birds were swimming in the water, let alone take good photos.

So a few days later, I returned to the spot with my boyfriend H.B. (hiking buddy) Derek and our dog Oreo, who we politely asked to remain in the car. (We walked him later, at a less duck-filled location.)

I crept up a snowbank and lo and behold — buffleheads! Or so I thought. I was wrong. Later, I checked the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website and found that I had actually been photographing hooded mergansers. Both birds have oddly shaped heads, but they actually look quite different. I have a lot to learn.

In the photos below, the birds with large white and black crests are male hooded mergansers, and the brown birds, which have much smaller crests, are female hooded mergansers. When courting a female, the males “raise their crests, expanding the white patch, often while shaking their heads. Their most elaborate display is head-throwing, in which they jerk their heads backwards to touch their backs, with crests raised, while giving a froglike croak. Females court by bobbing their heads and giving a hoarse gack,” according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

I also managed to photograph two common goldeneyes, which were swimming a bit farther from my vantage point. Goldeneyes have bright golden eyes. A male goldeneye has a black heads with a white patch in front of each eye, a black bill, white body and black and grey wings. A female bufflehead has a brown head and no patch in front of the eye.


One cool thing I read about goldeneyes: “The eyes of a Common Goldeneye are gray-brown at hatching. They turn purple-blue, then blue, then green-blue as they age. By five months of age they have become clear pale green-yellow. The eyes will be bright yellow in adult males and pale yellow to white in females.” — Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.