By Rich Crete
Hey Bird Guy! There are these funky looking small ducks on the pond behind my house. Some of them have over-sized black and white heads. Are these naturally occurring or might I be seeing some escapees from a zoo?
-C.B. of FishHawk Ranch
Odds are very high the birds you are seeing are called Hooded Mergansers, C.B. Or as we bird nerds call them, Hoodies. The ones you see with the over-sized heads are the males holding their crests up. Their heads look like an opened Chinese fan. The ones with a white stripe on the back of the heads are males with their crests down and the ones with reddish-brown heads with whisps are the females. They certainly do look ornamental so it’s easy to imagine they are on the lam from a zoo.
Hoodies are naturally occurring winter birds in this area. They like small fresh water ponds so this is the ideal spot for them. They have a very large breeding range, all across the eastern part of the U.S. and Canada, but interestingly none breed anywhere along the gulf of Mexico. Some will migrate north in March and others will stay into April.
Many duck-like birds call Florida their winter home. It is possible to see 20 or more different species on a birding trip in winter, whereas only four claim Tampa Bay as their home all year long. My favorite place to see a good variety of our wintering ducks is Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve in Ruskin. You can also see some at Medard Reservoir on Turkey Creek Road and if you want a fun place that’s even closer, Twin Lakes is a marvelous spot to see birds. All winter you will notice ducks on almost every decent size pond you come across. There are simply far more birds here in the winter months. You didn’t think the term “snowbird” started in Sun City Center, did you?
One other thing, C.B. Be sure to come visit me in my new location. The store has moved 3 miles up Lithia Pinecrest. I’m now located in the Erindale Plaza, next to the Carwash On The Green. A special thanks to all my loyal customers from FishHawk who have been supporting the store for the past eight wonderful years. I hope to see you soon and hope I can have at least eight more years in the new digs! Happy New Year!