Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus): Barry Kent MacKay


These attractive little ducks are named after the distinctive and colorful markings of the male in breeding plumage, the word referring to the clown-costumed pantomime character in Commedia dell’arte, a type of travelling performance featuring costumed, masked actors in Europe from the 16th to the 18th century. Even their scientific name derives from the Latin word, “histrio, meaning “actor”. They have a number of regional colloquial names, my favorite being “Lords and Ladies”, again referring to earlier eras when European nobility dressed ever so fancily. They are found across the northern hemisphere, in coastal regions, mountains, and in the arctic, nesting near fast water, glacially-fed torrents, or appearing in white water or oceanic coastlines, although they can occur inland, including here in the Great Lakes, in winter. They are small, their average weight being around 600 grams (about 1.3 pounds).

Their nesting range extends from North America’s eastern arctic, subarctic and western mountainous regions east to Greenland and Iceland and west, from Alaska, into eastern Siberia and north-eastern Asian regions. They migrate relatively short distances, often down coastlines, and are considered very rare as winter migrants in western Europe. While fairly common on North America’s west coast, the eastern population has experienced significant decline, and is endangered.

The species is monogamous and some pairs will remain together, if possible, through several seasons, although typical of ducks, the males generally leave care of the young up to the female.  They are diving ducks, and I have shown one of the females in a typical pose, peering beneath the water to see if there is any food worth the energy she must expand in diving below the surface. These ducks are very buoyant so it takes effort to hunt beneath the surface.

The painting is in oils on compressed hardboard and is 18 X 24 inches.

I did an oil painting of this species 18 years ago, also attached.

Barry Kent MacKay

Bird Artist, Illustrator

Studio: (905) 472 9731

31 Colonel Butler Drive

Markham, ON L3P 6B6 Canada

mimus@sympatica.ca

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