The Harlequin Duck is easily Alaska’s most colorful waterfowl. Nothing else comes close. Harlequin Ducks – “Harlies,”in birder slang – are sea ducks that move inland to white water rivers and streams to breed.
The species’ name come from the comic servant character in the Italian Commedia dell’arte. You can see that it is apt, at least as a description of the drake’s plumage.
The Harlequin Duck is a master at living and feeding in white water. And a lot of fun to watch.
Harlies combine scooting and swimming when navigating up rivers and streams with exposed boulders. Harlies are strong, shallow, divers, and use their feet to propel dive; they hold their wings slightly outstretched for steering or balance. This drake looks a little clumsy in this still photo, but they are very agile on the river surface and underwater and are able to maintain position in strong currents.
In contrast to the drake, the Harlequin Duck hen is a drab bird. When she broods her eggs along the river edge, she does her best to look like a rock or lump of moss.
Harlies might be WC’s favorite duck. Colorful, nimble, relatively tolerant of humans and a fine symbol for a wild river. It’s always a treat to see them.