The Harlequin Duck is a striking and unique species of waterfowl found in Kananaskis. These ducks are small and compact. The males sport bright blue and white plumage. Females are a more subdued brown and white coloration. Both can be seen in the (not particularly good) photo to the right. One of the most notable features of the Harlequin Duck is its striking pattern of bold white crescent shapes on a dark blue or black background. This pattern is found on the male’s head, breast, and wings. It is thought to be a form of camouflage that helps the duck blend in with the rocky, turbulent waters where it is commonly found.
In the Kananaskis area, the Harlequin Duck can be found in fast-flowing streams and rivers. They like being near waterfalls or other areas with turbulent water. These ducks are strong swimmers and divers. They are well-suited to life in these challenging aquatic environments.
Despite their small size and bright coloring, Harlequin Ducks can be quite difficult to spot in the wild. They are often found in remote, rugged areas. Harelequins are generally quite secretive. They tend to stay hidden in the cover of rocks or other natural features.
A year-round resident
In Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Harlequin Ducks can be found throughout the year. Their distribution and behaviour varies depending on the season.
The breeding season takes place from April to June. At this time, male Harlequin Ducks can be more easily seen. They become more vocal and active in their pursuit of females. Males will often perform elaborate courtship displays. They dive, preen, and shake their feathers to attract a mate. Uniquely, after breeding, the males “go coastal”. They fly to the Pacific Coast to moult, then return in the fall. They leave the ladies behind to care for the chicks.
During the non-breeding season, from July to March, these ducks tend to be more dispersed. They can be found in a wider range of habitats, such as larger streams and rivers like the Bow. They need open water, and go for fast-moving, bigger rivers in winter.
In general, it is more likely to see Harlequin Ducks in Kananaskis Country during the non-breeding season. They are more widely distributed and more visible in the landscape. However, with a bit of luck and patience, it is possible to spot these striking birds at any time of year.
A species of concern
Despite their beauty and unique appearance, Harlequin Ducks are a species of concern in Kananaskis. They have a relatively small breeding population. They are vulnerable to habitat loss, pollution, and other human activities that can negatively impact their natural environment. This includes human disturbance such as paddling near them.
Fortunately, efforts are being made to protect and conserve this species in the Kananaskis region. The Alberta government has designated certain areas as critical habitat for the Harlequin Duck. This includes the Kananaskis River upstream of Barrier Lake, where paddling is discouraged.
If you’re lucky enough to spot a Harlequin Duck in Kananaskis, be sure to enjoy the sighting from a distance and do your part to protect their habitat. These beautiful and unique birds are a treasured part of the natural heritage of Alberta, and deserve our care and protection.