By Chester A. Reed
HARLEQUIN DUCK (Histrionicus histrionicus). A handsome and trim species, although the male is garbed in a clownish manner. Its peculiarities are not confined to plumage, for Harlequins are rather solitary in their habits, while most ducks like company of their own kind.
They breed from the Arctic coast and Greenland south to Newfoundland and British Columbia, and in mountains to Colorado. They frequent, from choice, turbulent streams such as are chosen by Golden-eyes, and most frequently lay their six to eight buffy eggs in feather and down-lined hollows near the banks. In some sections it is also said that they nest in hollow trees. In winter they may be found locally throughout northern United States, but they are most abundant off the coasts from Newfoundland to Massachusetts and from the Aleutian Islands to California.
In Alaska they are said to congregate in large flocks before and after breeding, but most observers in the States have found them in small numbers or even as individuals.
They are medium-sized ducks, measuring about 17 in. in length, but are unfit for food since their flesh is quite tough, coarse and tasteless. They are very active in the water; can dive very quickly and can swim to great depths in search of their food of mollusks and insects. They also rise from the water with the greatest ease and can fly very rapidly. They are usually quite silent, but are said to utter shrill whistles during the mating season.
RUDDY DUCKS (Erismatura jamaicensis), although small, measuring only about 16 in. in length, are regarded as very fine table birds. Both bill and feet are of unusual size, the latter propelling them through the water very swiftly. The narrow-feathered, stiff tail is usually perked comically over the back as they float upon the water. Their short, concave wings make a buzzing sound during flight, causing them to be known as "Bumblebee Coot" among sportsmen. They breed locally in the Northern States and northward and winter throughout the United States.