Status: Fairly common regular spring and fall migrant statewide. Uncommon regular summer visitor east and central, rare regular west. Rare regular breeder east. Rare, locally uncommon, regular winter visitor west, south and east.
Documentation: Specimen: UNSM ZM13026, 5 Nov 1970 Lancaster Co.
Taxonomy: No subspecies are recognized.
Spring: Migration begins in late Feb. This species arrived early in numbers at several locations in 2009; two were at North Platte, Lincoln Co 11 Feb, 15 were at Scottsbluff SL, Scotts Bluff Co 13 Feb, and 42 were at Branched Oak Lake, Lancaster Co 14 Feb. Similarly, in 2016 there were several early arrivals: one at Lake Wanahoo, Saunders Co 31 Jan, one at Prairie Queen Lake, Sarpy Co 6-17 Feb, and one in Dodge Co 7-14 Feb.
Numbers peak in mid- to late Mar, declining through Apr; only small numbers remain into May.
- High counts: 100 at Lake Yankton, Cedar Co 29 Mar 2008, 73 in Lancaster Co 1 Mar 2011, and 68 in Cass Co 13 Mar 2011.
Summer: Hooded Mergansers in Nebraska are at the west edge of the breeding range of the eastern population as described by Baldassarre (2014). Nebraska records of breeding are few and possibly overlooked, as this species nests in wooded stream and river valleys difficult of access by human observers. However in recent years use of nest boxes placed for Wood Ducks has led to increasing detection of nesting birds.
There were only three confirmed records of nesting prior to 1988 (Ducey 1988). The only regular nesting known has occurred for several years prior to 2019 at DeSoto NWR, Washington Co in Wood Duck nest boxes on the refuge; there have been 1-2 attempts each year (Fred Oslund, pers.comm., Mark Vrtiska, pers. comm.). There are four additional confirmed records. Four unaccompanied day-old young birds found in Waterloo, Douglas Co 5 May 1997 were raised and later released (Mollhoff 2001). A female with nine young was photographed at Arbor Day Farm in Otoe Co 20 May 2005, and seven of the young were still present 26 May; the observer thought that a wood duck box was probably used. A female with three young was at Benson Park Lagoon, Omaha, Douglas Co 9 May 2008. A hen and brood of up to nine young were found 16 May 2020 at Pioneers Park, Lancaster Co (Lynette Hahne, pers. comm.) and observed by many through 22 Jun, when five young were present (eBird.org).
Additional reports suggestive of breeding were a photo of an apparent hatch-year juvenile taken in Lincoln, Lancaster Co 25 May 2009, the presence of five “young-of-the-year” 19 Jun 1995 in Grant Co (Grzybowski 1995), and a doorbell security camera photo of a juvenile in Lincoln, Lancaster Co 7 Aug 2020.
Egg dates and observations of broods (Johnsgard 1979, Robbins and Easterla 1992, Thompson et al 2011) suggest that breeding in Nebraska would occur in the period Apr through early Jul. However, the only recent reports of adult males in breeding plumage during that period are of one paired at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co 16 Apr 2006, two at Pintail WMA, Hamilton Co 7 May 2000 (Jorgensen 2012), one near Peru, Nemaha Co 8 May 2010, one in Washington Co 10 May 2000, one in Clay Co 14 May 2000 (Jorgensen 2012), and one in Lancaster Co 24 Jun 2006. Reports of breeding-plumaged males in western Nebraska during the Apr-Jun nesting period are few; one was at Lake Ogallala, Keith Co 16 May 2004 and one was south of Morrill in Scotts Bluff Co 26 May 2000.
Summer (mid-Jun through Aug) reports are numerous statewide, but fewer in the Panhandle; most of these are likely to be one-year-old immature birds that resemble adult females; this species does not breed until at least two years old (Baldassarre 2014). It is also possible small groups of these birds may be incorrectly identified as broods. Several of the reports of immature/female types are westerly, including six at Lake McConaughy, Keith Co 17 Jun 2004. Swenk (Notes Before 1925) stated that “it remains all summer at Inland, Clay Co, and probably breeds”, although Jorgensen (2012) pointed out that trees for nesting would have been scarce in the early 1900s and suggested that such summering birds, as is the case nowadays, were probably non-breeding sub-adults. A good count was the 15 female/immature birds in the Rainwater Basin 7-8 Jul 2015.
Since adult males lose breeding plumage in Jun, some of these summering birds may be post-breeding adult males, possibly molt migrants (see Fall). Adult males regain breeding plumage in late summer and early fall (Baldassarre 2014). An adult female at Lake Ogallala 26 Aug 2006 and a male near North Platte 18 Aug 1933 (Tout 1947) may have finished their fall molts.
Fall: Numbers begin to increase by early Oct. Earlier dates are 9 Sep 2018 Crescent Lake NWR, Garden Co and 14 Sep 1977 Garden Co. Peak numbers occur early to mid-Nov, with many remaining into Dec. Late dates above are away from Lake McConaughy and Sutherland Reservoir, Lincoln Co.
Males leave breeding areas on a molt migration, usually northward, when incubation begins, and females may follow, even before young are full-grown (Baldassarre 2014). Because much of the breeding range is southeast of Nebraska, molt migrants may account for some of the summer records discussed above (see Summer).
- High counts: 336 at Branched Oak Lake, Lancaster Co 6 Nov 2019, 321 at Lake Yankton, Cedar Co 8 Nov 2003, and 196 there 9 Nov 2017.
Winter: Overwintering (6 Jan-15 Feb) is not uncommon at certain locations, mostly in the east and in the Omaha, Douglas Co area, but Scotts Bluff Co, Lake McConaughy, and Sutherland Reservoir host small numbers. Easterly locations are Harlan Co Reservoir, Harlan Co, Pier Park, North Platte, Lincoln Co, Holmes Lake, Lancaster Co, and Carter Lake, Omaha, where overwintering likely occurred 2012-13 and has continued since, with best count the 22 in 2015-2016.
- High counts: 26 at Sutherland Reservoir 14 Jan 1998, 22 at Carter Lake 4 Feb 2016, and 16 at North Platte SL, Lincoln Co 16 Jan 2012.
SL: Sewage Lagoons
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
WMA: Waterfowl Management Area (State)
Photograph (top) of a Hooded Merganser at Straightwater WMA, Seward County, on 27 April 2015 by Phil Swanson.
Baldassarre, G. 2014. Ducks, geese, and swans of North America. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
Ducey, J.E. 1988. Nebraska birds, breeding status and distribution. Simmons-Boardman Books, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.
Grzybowski, J.A. 1995. Southern Great Plains Region. Field Notes 49: 945-948.
Johnsgard, P.A. 1979. Birds of the Great Plains: breeding species and their distribution. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
Jorgensen, J.G. 2012. Birds of the Rainwater Basin, Nebraska. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
Mollhoff, W.J. 2001. The Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas 1984-1989. Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Occasional Papers No. 7. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
Robbins, M.B., and D.A. Easterla. 1992. Birds of Missouri, their distribution and abundance. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, USA.
Swenk, M.H. Notes before 1925. Bird notes from A.M. Brooking of Hastings, C.A. Black of Kearney, and B.J. Olson of Kearney, based chiefly on their collections, up to January 1, 1925. Typed manuscript in the Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Archives, University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
Thompson, M.C., C.A. Ely, B. Gress, C. Otte, S.T. Patti, D. Seibel, and E.A. Young. 2011. Birds of Kansas. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, USA.
Tout, W. 1947. Lincoln County birds. Published by the author, North Platte, Nebraska, USA.
Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2020. Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus). In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org
Birds of Nebraska – Online
Updated 9 Dec 2020