Harlequin Duck

Harlequin Duck is a small sea duck. They belong to the family of Anatidae, Ducks and Geese. It is also known as the sea mouse. The term Harlequin means a character in Italian comedies who wears a black mask and a brightly colored costume, similar to these ducks.

Scientific Classification

Histrionicus histrionicus

Table Of Content

Scientific Classification

Histrionicus histrionicus

Common Names

There are some alternative names of these elegant ducks.

  • Blue streak
  • Painted Duck
  • Squeaker
  • Totem Pole Duck
  • White Eyed Diver
  • Mountain Duck
  • Rock Duck
  • Glacier Duck


Find out how these beautiful duck looks like.

Body : They are plump bodied.

Color : The color of the male’s wings, head, neck and back are bluish grey. The flanks are chestnut-red colored. A black strip runs along the top of its head which is bordered by a chestnut line. It ultimately fades to a white crescent around the front of its face. There are white markings, all edged with black on the wings, below the tail, behind the eye, side of the neck and around the base of the neck which forms a collar. The female has a dark grey brownish body and head with about 3 vague white facial markings similar to the males.

Size : The Males are usually 17.3 inches long. While the females are 15.8 inches long.

Weight : Males weigh around 1.44 pounds. The females weigh slightly lesser than the males. Their weight varies around 1.22 pounds.

Wingspan : Their wing span stretches up to 2 to 2.3 feet in breadth.

Harlequin Duck Picture

Picture 1 – Harlequin Duck


Harlequin ducks breed in Siberian region and in Mountain Rivers through Alaska and in the western provinces and states. They are also known to breed in Greenland, the eastern Arctic on Baffin Island, the Ungava peninsula. Globally, Harlequin Ducks are categorized into two distinct populations, a larger Pacific population and a comparatively smaller Atlantic population.


They are short distance migrants and mostly migrate during the winters near rocky shorelines on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. They rarely migrate to Western Europe.


Harlequin Ducks are a bird of fast-moving water. They breed on fast-flowing watercourses and spend the winters along rocky coastlines in the crashing surf. It generally nests close to water bodies and builds its nest on the ground in a bundle of bushes. Occasionally they build nests in a rock crevice, tree hollow or old sea bird burrow.


Harlequin Diet feeds on crustaceans, insects, chitons, fish, mussels, shellfish, fish eggs, molluscs and marine invertebrates. Harlequin ducks feed in small groups near the shore, with the help of their bills around and under stones.


These medium sized birds have some exclusive behavioral forms.

  • They dive for prey on or near the bottom of water bodies.
  • It specializes in feeding in fast water, mainly in turbulent, rock studded rivers which are rich in invertebrate life.
  • While searching for food, it walks along the floor of fast flowing streams, by using its bill to look for insect larvae in the rocks.
  • It builds its nests close to water borne areas.
  • They are known to walk near the bottom and crawl over slippery, algae covered rocks.
  • At the end of the breeding season, the flocks often include pairs which reunite when females join their mates that left them months earlier.
  • They live in flocks of up to fifty ducks, except breeding season.
  • They are sociable birds though they do not frequently mix with ducks of other species.
  • They feed in small groups.
  • These ducks play in the waves, using both their wings and their feet. They dive through the surf, and shows great skill to steer through the roughest seas.
  • These birds have high metabolism rates. So they must eat continuously.
  • Ducks molt around thrice in a year. The process of molting can take up to 2 months.
  • They return to the same location every winter.
  • During flight they travel in tightly packed groups.


When Harlequin Ducks are in the air, their flight is normally speedy and erratic. When they fly, their wings beat swiftly. They travel in packs.

Flying Harlequin Duck Image Picture 2 – Flying Harlequin Duck


The Harlequin Duck is preyed upon by the arctic fox and gray wolf.


Harlequin Ducks have certain adaptive features which helps them survive in extreme temperatures.

  • Harlequin ducks are excellent seafarers.
  • They are expert divers, which is useful for spending the winters in stormy waters.
  • This duck species burn up large amounts of energy while swimming in rough water, so they often rest on exposed rocks. This is in sharp contrast to other sea ducks which normally rests on the water.
  • They are the only ducks capable of pulling limpets and chitons off rocks, which they do by meddling with the hard “nail” on the tip of their bill.
  • They use their wings to warn and escape from predators.
  • They use their feathers to keep themselves insulated. Harlequin Ducks have smooth, densely packed feathers which trap a lot of air within them. This is essential for insulating their bodies against the chilly waters they play in.
  • Their feather makes them remarkably buoyant, which makes them spring up like corks after dives.


The voice of Harlequin Duck is that of a shrill whistle. It bears a resemblance to the squeak of a mouse. They remain silent most of the times, occasionally squeaking.

Mating Season

Harlequin ducks begin to mate when they reach the age of two years. Very little is known about their courtship behavior, even though breeding usually begins in late May or early June.


Harlequin Ducks usually lay around three to nine eggs. The egg is pale creamy to pale buff in color. The eggs are incubated by the female, which hardly ever leaves the nest only to feed, wash or rest for twenty eight to thirty two days until they hatch.

Images of Harlequin Duck Picture 3 – Harlequin Duck Image

The nest is made up of dry plants that are set in a circular pattern to a height of 5 to 8 cm, and is decorated with fine grass. The male lives with the female during the incubation period and leaves to moult as well as feed in other areas. It reduces the number of ducks feeding in one particular area and it probably escalates survival rates.


The female Harlequin Duck raises the young one. The chicks hatch within a few hours of one another. The young ones are able to swim and feed on their own soon after they are hatched.


Nothing is known about their lifespan.

Conservation Status

Harlequin Ducks are categorized as “Least Concern” by the IUCN.

Interesting Facts

  • The Harlequin Duck is the only duck in North America that specializes in feeding in fast moving streams. They are one of the only four birds in the world to do so.
  • These ducks are listed as endangered in Canada.
  • In North America these ducks are termed as Lords and Ladies because of its elegant feature.


Here are some amazing pictures of this glorious, graceful and gorgeous Duck species.

Photos of Harlequin Duck Picture 4 – Harlequin Duck Photo

Pictures of Harlequin Duck Picture 5 – Harlequin Duck Picture

One response to “Harlequin Duck”

  1. Jim Mulholland says:

    I live in Neuziders, Nr. Bludenz in the Voralburg district of Austria, we walk our Border Terrier dog around a local fishing lake most days, the lake has a mixture of common ducks Malards etc.we also have a ringed Harlequin duck, the ring colour is Yellow why would it be there? as it is not its normal habitat thanks for your time an answer would be good

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