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  ScienceZoologyBirdsOrder Anseriformes
pair of Harlequin DucksHarlequin Duck

Histrionicus histrionicus


The male harlequin is blue-gray, appearing black at a distance, with chestnut flanks, a chestnut wedge on the head, and distinctive white patches on the head and body. The female is dusky-brown, with three white patches on the side of the face.

Distribution and Habitat

Harlequins breed across the Arctic regions of North America from Alaska to northern Quebec south to Labrador and California, as well as in northern Asia and on Iceland. They winter along both coasts of North America south to Long Island and central California. They prefer highly oxygenated streams and rivers in the summer and wave-lashed rocky marine coasts in the winter.


Harlequins breed and nest along swift-moving inland streams. Four to seven pale buff eggs are laid in a mass of down in a nest site along a brushy bank. The young hatch after 28 to 30 days and are moved by the mother to backwater and slow-moving channels. They are able to fly at eight weeks, and by September are capable of migrating with their mother.


Freshwater invertebrates are the favored food of harlequins. During the winter months they use their stubby bills to pry snails, limpets, crabs, chitons, and mussels from the rocks, and in the late winter months they feed on herring spawn. They will also take fish eggs when available, as well as the larva of blackflies, stoneflies, caddisflies, mayflies, and other aquatic insects.

Habits and Behaviors

These expert swimmers are capable of riding rapids, diving and probing among the bottom stones of swift rivers and streams. At sea, they feed at the place where high surf meets stony cliffs and shoreline.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Aves
order Anseriformes
family Anatidae
subfamily Anatinae
genus & species Histrionicus histrionicus

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This page was last updated on September 20, 2015.

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