Audubon Centennial Edition  The Birds of America

Plate: 331
Plate: 302
Dusky Duck
Plate: 312
Long-tailed Duck
Plate: 327
Shoveller Duck
Plate: 403
Golden-eyed Duck
Plate: 317
Black or Surf Duck
Harlequin Duck
Havell Name   Havell Plate No.   Paper Size
Harlequin Duck 297 28" x 39"
Common Name Price Image Size
Harlequin Duck $ 1,200 15" x 26"


Ornithological Biography
I have the pleasure of presenting you with three figures of the Harlequin Duck, one a male in all the perfection of its spring plumage, the bird having attained complete maturity, another male two years old, and an adult female shot in the pairing season. No figures of the adult male or of the female have, I believe, hitherto been published.

To the south of the Bay of Boston the “Lord and Lady Duck” is rarely seen on our coast; but from that neighbourhood it becomes more plentiful as you proceed eastward; and, on reaching Maine and the entrance of the Bay of Fundy, you may see it at any period of the year among the rocky islands there. It breeds on the Seal, White Head, and Grand Manan Islands, and along the coast of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, Newfoundland, and Labrador. Many, however, proceed much farther north, for specimens were obtained by Captain JAMES CLARK Ross in the highest latitudes visited by him. It is extremely attached to certain localities, from which it rarely wanders unless greatly molested, and it thus remains about the islands, or the parts of the coast on which it breeds, unless it be forced off by very severe weather in winter. Few persons shoot it for its flesh; not that it is inferior as food to other deep-diving Ducks, but because it is comparatively small, and difficult to be obtained. Not only is it at all seasons remarkably shy and vigilant, but even if approached when on rocks, it plunges into the water the moment its keen eye catches a glance of you, dives with all the agility of the Black Guillemot, and seldom rises within shot. If you shoot at it when passing on wing, even should it be beyond reach, it plunges into the water the moment it perceives the flash,--a habit which is also occasionally observed in the Black Guillemot. It being usually found in flocks of one or two families, or of from twelve to fifteen individuals, some one always acts as a watchful sentinel, whose single note of alarm is sufficient to induce the whole to move off without hesitation. Notwithstanding all this vigilance, however, my party procured a good number of them at different times, by lying in wait for them under cover of some rocks, in the neighbourhood of which they were known to alight at certain hours of the day, to bask in the sun and dress their plumage. On these occasions a shot seldom failed to kill several, for they fly compactly and alight close together.

On the 31st of May, 1833, I found them breeding on White Head Island, and other much smaller places of a similar nature, in the same part of the Bay of Fundy. There they place their nests under the bushes or amid the grass, at the distance of twenty or thirty yards from the water. Farther north, in Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, they remove from the sea, and betake themselves to small lakes a mile or so in the interior, on the margins of which they form their nests beneath the bushes next to the water.
The nest is composed of dry plants of various kinds, arranged in a circular manner to the height of two or three inches, and lined with finer grasses. The eggs are five or six, rarely more, measure two inches and one-sixteenth by one inch and four and a half eighths, and are of a plain greenish-yellow colour. These measurements differ a little from those of an egg sent to me by my friend Mr. HEWITSON of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, and which had been found in Ireland by Mr. ATKINSON. After the eggs are laid, the female plucks the down from the lower parts of her body, and places it beneath and around them, in the same manner as the Eider Duck and other species of this tribe. The male leaves her to perform the arduous but, no doubt to her, pleasant task of hatching and rearing the brood, and, joining his idle companions, returns to the sea-shore, where he moults in July and August. The little ones leave the nest a few hours after they burst the shell, and follow their mother to the water, where she leads them about with the greatest care and anxiety. When about a week old she walks with them to the sea, where they continue, in the same manner as the Eiders. When discovered in one of these small inland lakes, the mother emits a lisping note of admonition, on which she and the young dive at once, and the latter make for the shores, where they conceal themselves, while the former rises at a good distance, and immediately taking to wing, leaves the place for awhile. On searching along the shores for the young, we observed that, on being approached, they ran to the water and dived towards the opposite side, continuing their endeavours thus to escape, until so fatigued that we caught four out of six. When at sea, they are as difficult to be caught as the young Eiders.

The flight of the Harlequin Duck is rapid and generally straight. At sea it flies at a small height, but when flying over the land, or even when approaching it, should there be any suspicion of danger, it rises to a considerable height. Its food consists of shrimps, small fishes, roe, aquatic insects, and mollusca, which it procures by diving. The flesh is dark, and generally tastes of fish, but that of the female is good during the period of her sojourn on the fresh-water ponds.

The male takes three years to acquire his full plumage, although many individuals breed in the second year. The female is perfect in the second spring. Dr. RICHARDSON, in the Fauna Boreali-Americana, describes a male killed on the eastern declivity of the Rocky Mountains, whence it appears that at times it goes far inland; and it is very probable that its habits differ greatly in different localities.


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