Some info on Harlequins

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Some info on Harlequins

Postby Greg Wile » Mon Jul 18, 2005 6:47 am

Harlequin Duck
Eastern population


Scientific name: Histrionicus histrionicus
Taxonomic group: Birds

Status under SARA*: Special Concern, on Schedule 1
designation: Special Concern (May 2001)

*SARA: The Species at Risk Act
**COSEWIC: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada

Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | References | National Recovery Program |



The Harlequin duck is a small, subarctic sea duck. The adult male appears dark from a distance, but has colourful patches. He has slate blue plumage, chestnut sides, and streaks of white on the head and body. The crown has a black stripe with a chestnut stripe on either side. The belly is slate grey. Females are a rather plain brownish-grey with patches of white behind, below and in front of the eye. Immatures resemble the female until late autumn of their first year, when young male ducks begin to resemble the adult males. They do not gain the full adult plumage until their second year.



Canadian Distribution of the Harlequin Duck,
Eastern population (shown in red) 1,2


Distribution is approximate and not intended for legal use.

1Author: Canadian Wildlife Service, 2004
2Data Sources: The main source of information and data is the COSEWIC Status Report. In many cases additional data sources were used; a complete list will be available in the future.


Distribution and Population
Four populations of the Harlequin duck are found world-wide, two of them in Canada: the western population along the Pacific Coast, and the eastern population along the Atlantic Coast. The western population is estimated at 200,000 - 300,000 birds, while the eastern population has declined from historical estimates of 5000 - 10,000 to fewer than 1500 individuals. Numbers appear to be increasing over the last five years to an estimated 1800 individuals.Harlequins of the eastern population mostly breed along eastern Hudson Bay, but a few are also known to breed inland on the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the shore of the Gaspé peninsula. In the past, the Harlequin was a common breeder in Newfoundland, but in the last 40 years, only a few pairs have been seen in that province. The ducks do not migrate very far if at all; many of them winter on the east and south coasts of Newfoundland, along the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, in southeastern Nova Scotia, in New Brunswick, in Maine, and at a few locations south of Cape Cod. Approximately half the population winters in New England.


Harlequin Ducks spend most of the year in coastal marine environments, but they move inland each spring to breed along fast-flowing turbulent rivers. During the winter, the Harlequin Duck occurs along headlands where the surf breaks against rocks and ice buildup is minimal. These ducks feed close to rocky shorelines or rock skerries.


Harlequin ducks first breed at 2 or 3 years of age. Their nests are usually built on the ground on islands or along the banks of fast-flowing streams. Transmitted satellite data recently led biologists to the first two active Harlequin nests ever reported in eastern North America. Surprisingly, these nests were both on cliff ledges, one about 20 m above the water.

The clutches of 3 to 8 creamy eggs are incubated by the female, who later leads the hatched young to secluded streams to feed. Fluctuations in food and water levels can affect breeding success. The reproductive rate of Harlequin ducks is low, which makes it more difficult for this duck to recover from a decline.


Destruction, alteration and contamination of their habitat are the main factors accounting for the decline of the eastern population of the Harlequin Duck. Some of the once fast-flowing streams have been altered by hydro projects, and other human activities have impinged on both the breeding and wintering grounds and the food supply. Oil spills and chronic oil pollution are major threats to the duck's wintering habitat. Although hunting of this population of Harlequin ducks has not been permitted in recent years, the birds remain extremely vulnerable to hunters, because of their tameness, their tendency to feed close to shore, and the resemblance of the female and immatures to ducks of other species which may be hunted.


The Harlequin Duck Eastern population is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

The Harlequin Duck is classified as a game bird under the Migratory Birds Convention Act of 1917; this classification means that it is managed by the Migratory Game Bird Hunting Regulations. Since 1990-91, the hunting season for Harlequin ducks in the Atlantic provinces has been closed, in recognition of their special need for protection. The hunting season for Harlequin ducks has also been closed in Maine. In New Brunswick, the species was designated endangered under the provincial Endangered Species Act in 1996.


- Brodeur, S. 1997. Étude des déplacements du Canard arlequin. Rapport final présenté au Fonds mondial pour la nature et à l'Environnement Canada.
- Brodeur, S., J.-P. L. Savard, M. Robert, P. Laporte, P. Lamothe, R. D. Titman, S. Marchand, S. Gilliland, and G. Fitzgerald (soumis pour publication). Harlequin Duck Histrionicus histrionicus population structure in eastern Nearctic. J. Avian Biol.
- Fitzgerald, G., S. Brodeur and M. Robert 2001. Implantation abdominale d’émetteurs sur l’Arlequin plongeur (Histrionicus histrionicus) et le Garrot d’Islande (Bucephala islandica). Le Médecin vétérinaire du Québec 31(1).
- Gilliland, S., G. J. Robertson, M. Robert, J.-P. L. Savard, D. Amirault, P. Laporte, and P. Lamothe (soumis pour publication). Abundance and distribution of Harlequin Ducks molting in eastern Canada. Wilson Bull.
- Goudie, R.I. 1990. Status report on the HARLEQUIN DUCK, Histrionicus histrionicus, ( Eastern population) in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. 106 pp.
- Montevecchi, W.A., and I. Fong. 1996-1997. Breeding status and feeding ecology of Harlequin Ducks in Northern Labrador. Report for Environment Canada and World Wildlife Fund (Canada), Endangered Species Recovery Fund.
-Montevecchi, W.A., A. Bourget, J. Brazil, R.I. Goudie, A.E. Hutchinson, B.C. Johnson, P. Kehoe, P. Laporte, M.A. McCollough, R. Milton, and N. Seymour. 1995. National Recovery Plan for the Harlequin Duck in eastern North America. Report No. 12. Recovery of Nationally Endangered Wildlife Committee, 30 pp.
- Robert, M. 1997. White Water Rider. Canadian Wildlife, Vol. 3 (2): 10-15.
- Robert, M. and L. Cloutier 2001. Summer food habits of Harlequin Ducks in eastern North America. Wilson Bull. 113.
- Rodway, M.S. 1998. Habitat use by Harlequin Ducks breeding in Hebron Fiord, Labrador. Can. J. Zool. 76: 897-901.
- Rodway, M.S. 1998. Activity patterns, diet, and feeding efficiency of Harlequin Ducks breeding in northern Labrador. Can. J. Zool. 76: 902-909
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Greg Wile
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Joined: Sat Sep 04, 2004 8:02 pm
Location: Nova Scotia, Canada

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