Hooded Mergansers Sound Like Frogs

I mentioned this phenomenon on PABIRDS and got a huge response so I decided to go into more detail here.

Hooded Merganser, male (photo by Chuck Tague)Hooded Merganser, female (photo by Chuck Tague)

On Sunday at Moraine State Park (Fine Weather For Ducks) I heard a frog-like sound coming from the area where the ducks were swimming.  Using Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website I figured out the sound came from the hooded mergansers.  The male is pictured at left, the female at right.

According to Cornell Lab, hooded mergansers are silent except in courtship when the male gives a deep rolling frog-like sound, recorded here at the end of the clip.

Amy Taracido says their voice sounds like “merg merrrrrrrrg” – a perfect description and one that makes me laugh when I say it.

Besides the sheer amusement of hearing a bird make this noise, it’s curious that this is considered a courtship sound.  We generally assume birds don’t court in the winter, so from our perspective the hooded mergansers cannot possibly be courting on December 9th.  But why not?  Why does courtship have to be confined to spring?

The flock was large and about 50/50 males and females.  On migration southward, the hooded mergs might be in “dating” mode, especially the young ducks who haven’t bred yet.  Flocks would be the perfect place to meet the opposite sex and decide on a mate.  Mergansers might even need some get-acquainted time before they make a choice.

So I guess Lake Arthur is The Bar Scene for ducks.

(photos by Chuck Tague)

6 thoughts on “Hooded Mergansers Sound Like Frogs

  1. Haha, I just came across this entry too! (also saw your 1/14/09 crossbill entry)….yes my husband and I observed them at PISP (Erie Co.) and came up with that sound to imitate the males….we often joke about it too.

  2. Interesting fact, which I was luck enough to experience first hand today 13the Nov 2009, at around 3 PM at a pond in Col Sam Smith park,Etobicoke, Ontario, I also heard and saw how they make that sound and how they stretch theur black neck long and the head is then tilted backwards as they make the sound. There were two drakes courting together for the attention of one female.In the end , it seemed like one must have won and the other one gave up or lost as he went away and had a for a cold “shower”. Interesting how much they live in harmony unlike us humans.

  3. today i saw a bird that had a low sounding frog call, in our pond. what i wonder do these birds perch on a branch? i think it was a hooded mergansers female, it had feet like a duck or heron, but landed on a branch in a tree, it didn’t move, but i got it to call, and it sounded like merg gerrrrr, pitch of a frog. thank you for someone to put this on the web, so i could look it up.

  4. i got more information, and what i saw was a female hooded merganser, they live in holes in trees, therefore they must light on branches, i have small fish in my pond, what they live on, and live with woodducks, i have a woodduck house in my pond. i live outside of la crosse wisconsin, not too far off the mississippi river. never saw one before, but won’t forget. thank you kate again for having this info on the web, therefore easily found the answers i was looking for.

  5. Sam, I’m glad I could help and am happy to meet someone who lives where hooded mergansers nest. What a privilege to see them perched in trees!

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