Blue geese, clowns, sea mice, and squeakers are among the nicknames given to the harlequin duck. No matter what you name them, harlequins are one of the lovely, most fascinating, and least understood waterfowl species. They’re, by each sense of the phrase, a “trophy chook” for critical waterfowl hunters. However few will ever come throughout a harlie within the area on account of their distant places and strict looking rules.

In 2022, Washington State fully closed harlequin looking in response to elevated strain that was unsustainable. Now, Alaska stays one of many solely places the place hunters can persistently harvest a blue duck. This makes the harlequin one of many hardest birds to hunt for these in pursuit of harvesting all the North American waterfowl species. In addition to the problem of efficiently taking a harlie, their beautiful plumage is what attracts hunters from all all over the world to distant places. Right here’s every part else you must know concerning the lovely harlequin duck.

Look and Vocalization

Like most feminine geese, the hen harlequin has a group of browns and olive-browns, with a speckled white chest, stiff black tail feathers, a white face patch forward of the attention, a roundish white patch behind the attention, and a stubby albeit heavy invoice. They’re additionally small, related in dimension to a blue-wing teal, tipping the scales at simply over one pound.

If you happen to have been to combine a kaleidoscope with a field of Crayola crayons, you may find yourself with one thing that resembles a drake harlequin. Merely put, they’re a beautiful chook. Total, the drakes characteristic a smooth slate blue coloration with chestnut purple sides. A white facial patch in entrance of the attention runs upward overtop the pinnacle, bordered by black and the identical chestnut striping. A white semi-collar runs alongside the perimeters of the neck however doesn’t absolutely join. In addition they have a skinny white “shoulder” stripe that’s outlined in black. The drake shares the hen’s stiff darkish tail, whereas his wings are a darkish brown with blue iridescent highlights and white stripes close to the physique. They’re barely greater than the hens, weighing just below one and one-half kilos.

Harlequins are a surprisingly vocal duck, with a repertoire of high-pitched mouse-like squeaks—therefore the moniker sea-mice—and fast-paced whistling peeps which are brief, however machine gun fast. Some describe the sound as a staccato whine. 

The drake harlequin options a formidable mixture of colours, together with a chestnut purple on the perimeters. jgorzynik/Adobe Inventory

Habitat

Not like mallard hens that desire to nest in knee-high sheltering grass, harlequin hens nest alongside turbulent mountain streams and rivers. Right here, and all through the spring and summer season, each drakes and hens appear fairly content material within the whitewater. They forage, swim, and even stroll on the underside of rivers and bays in the hunt for aquatic bugs like caddisfly larvae, hellgrammites, and dragonfly nymphs, in addition to the occasional vegetative materials.

Harlequins winter in coastal saltwater environments, usually in shallow (lower than 25 toes) water depths and rocky (wave-washed cobblestone) shorelines. As documented by the Sea Duck Joint Enterprise—a gaggle fashioned in 1999 as a part of the North American Waterfowl Administration Plan (NAWMP)—blue geese are “comparatively tame, use near-shore habitats, and have excessive site-fidelity,” thus making them extraordinarily weak to looking.

four drake harlequin ducks on rocks
Harlequins typically winter alongside rocky coastal shorelines. rhfletcher

Distribution and Inhabitants Statistics

Although harlequins are regarded as a chook of the West Coast, there are two distinct and fairly separate populations of blue geese within the U.S. and Canada. The higher-known western inhabitants makes its residence from roughly the Rocky Mountains, together with the Canadian Rockies, westward to the Pacific, and wintering from the Aleutian Islands south to Oregon.

The jap inhabitants, the majority of which inhabits a area from Quebec and Labrador south to Newfoundland and New Brunswick, is additional segmented into two teams based mostly on the place every winter. One group winters in southwestern (coastal) Greenland, and the opposite within the Maritimes and New England states, primarily the Penobscot and Jericho bays of Maine.

For a few years, Washington was the one state within the Decrease 48 the place hunters may reliably harvest harlequins. Right this moment, because it’s been for the reason that 2022 season, that is not an possibility. Waterfowl biologists decided that blue duck populations have, on account of a dramatic improve in harvest, dropped to ranges that can’t, if the harvest have been to proceed, be sustainable for the longer term.

At one time, Washington hunters may harvest seven harlequins day by day. This dropped to at least one day by day after which to at least one per yr till 2022, when the taking of blue geese in Washington was closed solely. It’s fascinating to notice that whereas harlequins are off-limits in Washington, the birds are categorized merely as geese within the states of Oregon and California and, subsequently, will be harvested. Nevertheless, it is vitally uncommon to kill a harlie in these areas.

However there are nonetheless alternatives for these wishing to test a harlequin off their bucket record in Alaska. For these looking The Final Frontier as non-residents, it’s authorized to take 4 (4) harlequins per season. Although a DIY hunt in Alaska for non-residents is definitely doable, most, if not all, harlequin seekers make use of the companies of an clothes shop who cannot solely level the harlie hopefuls in the best route however possess all of the gear essential to hunt Alaska’s saltwater each safely and efficiently.

a drake harlequin in a hunters hand
Discipline & Stream Editor-in-Chief Colin Kearns holds up a Drake harlequin he took in Alaska. Colin Kearns

Searching Strategies

Efficiently looking harlequins lies extra in the best gear and the placement than it does the decoys. As talked about earlier, blue geese are terribly site-specific; that’s, they’ve a bit of shoreline they like, and if one goes there and is affected person, the little geese can be by. Nevertheless, the trick behind the harvest typically lies in an appropriate boat, a more-than-capable captain on the helm, the flexibility to learn a tide desk, and native data.

Harlequin spreads are extremely small by comparability to most conventional puddle duck or diver rigs. They often vary from six to 10 or 12 individually rigged and infrequently hand-carved and painted by hand artistic endeavors. No calling is required; nevertheless, a pointy eye and/or binoculars will definitely assist reply the query of whether or not or not it’s a mature harlequin to take.

As a trophy chook sure for the taxidermy studio, harlequins are finest gunned with feather-friendly dense patterns of smaller, non-toxic shot, reminiscent of Hevi-Shot’s 2-3/4 inch Hevi-Bismuth 5 or 6 shot.

All the pieces apart, an important half about looking harlequins is getting the place you must be. And the place you must be these days to kill a harlequin is Alaska. The little blue duck? He’s a beautiful bonus to the journey of a lifetime.

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