Meet the Snowbirds! 

By Rich Wolfert 
Skidaway Audubon 

If you were asked to name some “snowbirds”, you might list some of your Landings neighbors, and you’d be correct. But there are other snowbirds that come south for the winter, and many here know little about them. 

Who are these mysterious visitors? One of the easiest to spot and perhaps the most common are Hooded Mergansers. These are mid-sized diving ducks, about 18 inches tip to tail, that swim on the surface, and then suddenly dive for small fish. 

The males are unmistakable with their flamboyant, Mohawk-style crest which they can raise and lower like a fan. These talented divers also have the ability to change the refractive properties of their eyes to see better underwater. In addition, they have an extra eyelid, a transparent membrane, which acts like a pair of goggles and helps protect the eye while diving below in search of food. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The map above shows that these birds generally are here only during the winter. They usually leave their coastal winter homes by April, and return in mid-November. 

Courtship begins on their wintering grounds. As small groups gather, and pair formations begin. the males fan out their crests to attract the females. The pairs are monogamous, and are slow to colonize new breeding areas, making it important to conserve the areas where they breed. 

Hooded Mergansers are one of the few ducks that eat fish but will also consume crustaceans. It’s the smallest of the three merganser species found in North America. Hooded mergansers are considered hidden treasures because they prefer swamps and wooded ponds, which, luckily, makes The Landings’ lagoons the perfect place for them! 

These birds are frequently seen in The Landings’ lagoon immediately to the north and west of the Marsh Tower. They are usually in the middle of the marsh there. They also frequent the long lagoon that runs from Landings Way to Bartram Road. There is a golf cart/walking path that runs along the lagoon that provides excellent viewing opportunities to a very large group of “Hoodies” during the winter. 

There have been reports of their presence at other lagoons as well, in particular those near Delegal Creek Marina. They frequently allow close enough viewing to provide great photos. Enjoy these dapper “snowbirds”!