COLUMN: Elegant Harlequin remarkable to watch

Birds of Nakusp

Gary Davidson

In my opinion, there is no duck more elegant looking than a breeding plumage male Harlequin Duck. It would be very difficult to describe in words the appearance of this bird since the pattern and colours are so intricate. But essentially a breeding male is a combination of blue, white and chestnut brown as you can see in this photograph.

In interior B.C., Harlequins breed on rushing mountain streams. It is quite remarkable to see this duck swimming in fast creeks. They seem to be able to defy the strength of the moving water, remaining still sometimes as the water rushes by. Then without warning they disappear below the surface, only to reappear somewhere downstream. Then they seem to be able to swim back upstream, using rocks and back eddies to avoid the fastest water.

Since we have an abundance of such streams in our region, it is surprising to me that this bird isn’t seen more frequently in the valley. The Kuskanax, in particular, should provide ideal nesting habitat. Despite this, I have seen Harlequins up Kuskanax Creek only once. On a few other occasions, including this month, I have seen them in the lake near the mouth of the Kuskanax, in spring. These could be birds arriving for the summer and preparing to head up the creek. There is a lot of creek up that valley and it would be easy to miss them. For some reason they are much less common in the fall. I suspect they leave the breeding grounds and head directly toward their wintering grounds.

As with most duck species, the male Harlequin plays no part in the incubation of eggs of the care of young. When the females start incubating the eggs, the males depart. Migration is primarily east-west for this species; those that breed in the interior, head to the coast for winter. Harlequins are a common site around the southern B.C. coast in the non-breeding season.

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