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General and References

Alternative Names (Synonyms)

Kragenente (German)
Arlequin plongeur (French)
Canard harlequin (French)
Garrot arlequin (French)
Pato arlequín (Spanish)
Harlekijneend (Dutch)
Strömand (Swedish)
Histrionicus histrionicus histrionicus - Atlantic Harlequin duck, Eastern Harlequin duck
Histrionicus histrionicus pacificus - Pacific Harlequin duck, Western Harlequin duck
Cosmonetta histrionica

Names for newly-hatched

Duckling, downy.

Names for non-breeding males or other colour-phases


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Species Author

Debra Bourne

Major References

B1, B2, B3, B6, B8, B19, B25, B26.

Aviculture references:
B8, B94, B97, B129

Other References

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TAXA Group (where information has been collated for an entire group on a modular basis)

Parent Group

Specific Needs Group referenced in Management Techniques

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Aviculture Information


General information:
  • Seaducks are generally winter-hardy and sociable. They are preferably kept on a large area of clean, cold, deep water, at least some of which (preferably half the area) should be more than 60cm and preferably more than1m deep. As with other diving ducks, most species are relatively ungainly on land and ponds should have shallow sloping banks. Some cover along the pond edges will generally be appreciated. Preferred nesting sites vary greatly within this group, from open ground nesting to thick vegetation and tree holes.
  • Diets of grain, pellets fish and seafood may be used, also bread. These ducks generally need a higher-protein diet than most waterfowl species and high-protein pelleted diets specifically designed for seaducks are now available, although supplementation with fish may still be important particularly for breeding.
  • Feeding in troughs containing stones may avoid the development of overgrown bills. Provision of salt water may decrease the incidence of fungal and other infections.
  • Ducklings may be given high-protein starter crumbs and live food, and provided with access to deep water for swimming from an early age.

(B7, B29, B40, B94, B129, D1)

Species-specific information:

  • Harlequin ducks have not been commonly kept or bred, but they have become more numerous in collections in recent years. It is important to provide these ducks with clear, running water, which should preferably be 1m deep or greater for at least half of the water area.
  • Scanty and closer vegetation cover near water should be provided for nesting, also ground-level boxes. Eggs may be laid end of April to June
  • Ducklings may be difficult to get feeding initially.

(B8, B29, B94, B97, B129, D1)

Aviornis UK Ringing Scheme recommended average ring size: L 11.0mm (D8).

Management Techniques

Stimulating Feeding of Downies (Waterfowl)
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External Appearance (Morphology)

Measurement & Weight

Length 15-21 inches, 38-51cm (B3, B1).
Adult weight General 540-680g (B1).
Male Average about 680g, maximum 750g (B3); mean 1.5 lbs. (B8).
Female Average about 540g, maximum 562g (B3); mean 1.2 lbs. (B8).
Newly-hatched weight --
Growth rate --

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Adult Bill Male Blue-grey with pale nail (B2, B25)
Variations (If present) Dark slate-grey with paler tip (B2, B3, B25)
Eyes (Iris) Male Red-brown (B2, B6, B25).
Variations(If present) Brown (B2, B3, B6, B25)
Juvenile Bill Dark slate-grey with paler tip (B2, B25)
Eyes (Iris) Brown (B2, B3, B6, B25)

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Adult Male Blue-grey, darker webs (B2, B3, B25).
Variations (If present) Female: Grey, darker webs (B2, B3, B6, B25).
Juvenile Grey, darker web (B2, B3, B6, B25).

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Adult Male Overall blue-grey, head and neck markings:black line dorsally from bill over crown to nape, white either side of face from triangle beside bill in front of eye and extending alongside black line toward top of head, continuing as chestnut line back to nape. White ‘ear’ spot, white line on sides of neck behind /below these. White line outlined in black at base of neck on each side, second line similarly on sides of breast. Abdomen and ventral area darker, rump, tail and tail coverts black with small white spot at base of tail on either side. Flanks chestnut, Wings dark with mainly white scapulars and white tertials forming white bands, secondaries glossy blue (B2, B3, B8, B25, B26).
Variations (If present) Female:- dark sooty-brown, darkest on head. White area between bill and eye, white spot on ear coverts, centre of abdomen mottled with white, secondaries blueish/purple (B2, B25).

Eclipse:- Similar to female, but retains distinct white markings on head and some of white on sides of breast, and on wings (B6, B25)

Juvenile Similar to female but browner, and lacks blue sheen to secondaries (B2, B25)

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Newly-hatched Characteristics

General: Upperparts including crown to below eyes black-brown with a white spot by the bill and one in front of the eye, whitish patches on wing, thigh and back; underparts including face below eye white (B2, B6, B8).
Bill: Grey (B6, B8).
Feet: Grey (B6).

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Reproductive Season

Time of year Begins May/June (B1, B2, B26)
No. of Clutches One (B1).

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Nest placement and structure

Usually within 5 metres of water, on the ground concealed in vegetation or natural cavities, a depression with small amounts of grass and twigs, lined with down (B1, B2, B3, B8, B25, B26).

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Egg clutches

No. of Eggs Average 5-7 (B1, B2).
Range 3-10 (B1, B2); 4-8 (B8).
Egg Description Creamy yellow to pale buff (B8); size: 54x38mm, weight: 38g (B3)

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27-30 days (B8); 27-29 days (B2).

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56-70 days (B8).

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Sexual Maturity

Males Two years old (B2).
Females Two years old (B2).

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Feeding Behaviour

Adults Mainly dive, also dabble and head-dip in shallows (B1, B2, B8, B25).
Newly-hatched --

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Parental Behaviour

Nest-building Solitary nest, built by female (B2).
Incubation By female (B2, B8).
Newly-hatched Tended by female, brooded at night initially and may be carried on her back (B2, B8).

Usually remain with female until fledged and taken down-river to sea by female, but may be abandoned earlier (B2, B8).

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Social Behaviour

Intra-specific Found in pairs, small groups or in flocks of up to 50 birds outside breeding season (B2, B25).
Inter-specific Sometimes seen loosely associated with other sea-ducks in winter; vagrants are usually with other ducks (B25).

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Sexual Behaviour

Monogamous seasonal pair bonds, develop during winter; males desert females once incubation underway (B2, B3, B25, B26).

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Predation in Wild

Arctic fox, feral mink, ravens, gyrfalcon (B8).

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Activity Patterns

Loaf on water at sea, also on shore is sea is calm, and on shores and rocks in summer when on rivers (B2, B25).
Circadian Feed most of the daytime, roosting at night (B2)

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Natural Diet


Molluscs, crustaceans; aquatic insect (blackfly, midge, caddis-fly) larvae important in summer, also worms, small fish (B1, B2, B3, B8, B26).

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Range and Habitat

Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)


From Lake Baikal in Siberia eastward across northern and eastern Asia, to Aleutian Islands, Alaska, south through Yukon to Colorado; also eastern Canada, Greenland, Iceland.

Winters on seacoasts within breeding range, and on the Great Lakes. (B1, B19).

Occasional and Accidental

In winter reaches British Isles, occasionally west and central Europe, eastern China, Japan, southern California, Gulf coast of USA west to Texas, Florida. (B1, B19)



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Breeding: mountain streams in forested areas, also open tundra. Winter: large lakes and seacoasts.

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Intraspecific variation

Sometimes recorded as two subspecies, Histrionicus histrionicus histrionicus - Eastern harlequin duck, and Histrionicus histrionicus pacificus- Pacific harlequin duck.

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Conservation Status

Wild Population -

Not globally threatened: common, widespread and locally abundant (B1). However, severe declines in numbers breeding in eastern Canada and north-eastern USA (B8).

CITES listing --
Red-data book listing --
Threats Habitat disturbance (B8)

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Captive Populations

More numerous in collections in recent years (B8).

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