Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Harlequin Duck - Histrionicus histrionicus
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General Comments The Harlequin Duck is the third of the three "jetty/pier" sea ducks (along with the two eiders) that occasionally occur in winter in North Carolina. Its numbers have been in between those of the Common Eider and the King Eider: casual to very rare winter visitor into the 1980's, a spike of records in the 1980's and 1990's, but a noticeable decline since the late 1990's, perhaps owing to a decline in the breeding population. However, there have been a good handful of records in recent years, more so than with the now very rare King Eider. It also is nearly restricted to the immediate coast, and is even more closely found around jetties and piers, where it often feeds on barnacles on these structures, than are the eiders. Unlike the eiders, there is a single far inland record in the state. Also, full-plumaged males are frequently seen in North Carolina waters.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G4
Coastal Plain Rare winter visitor along the immediate coast, and very rare in estuarine waters of bays and sounds. Numerous records from the Wrightsville Beach (New Hanover) and Fort Macon SP (Carteret) areas, as well as farther north sites such as Oregon Inlet and Cape Hatteras (groins at the old lighthouse site). There are a few records away from the immediate coast, such as at the Cedar Island ferry terminal (Carteret), Pamlico Point impoundments and marshes (Pamlico), and Pamlico Sound near Swan Quarter (Hyde). There are no inland records from the province. Mainly mid-Nov to late Mar. Peak counts: 6, Oregon Inlet, 20 Feb - 10 Mar 2014; 5, Wrightsville Beach, 12 Feb 1994; 5, Masonboro Inlet, 17 Feb 1988; 5, Rodanthe (Dare), 22 Jan 1984.
Piedmont Accidental; a single record, an immature male seen at Lake Brandt (Guilford) on 18 Feb 2007, remaining for about a week [Chat 71:38* link], photo).
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips The finding tips are essentially the same as for eiders. Look especially under the southern end of the Bonner Bridge at Oregon Inlet. The second best area for checking is probably the jetties at Wrightsville Beach. Because the species is rather small, birds can be hard to spot among the crashing waves under piers and near jetties.
Attribution LeGrand[2018-02-01], LeGrand[2017-08-23], LeGrand[2016-12-11]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.