This duck is the smallest merganser commonly found in Washington. Hooded Mergansers have a crest that, like a fan, can be spread or closed. Like other mergansers, it has a narrow, serrate bill. The male in breeding plumage is distinctive, with olive-brown sides and a black back accented with white stripes down the middle of a few long feathers. His breast is white with two black bars on each side. The black border surrounding the white crest extends to the face, which is punctuated with a yellow eye. Females are brown-gray overall, lighter below and darker on the back. The crest of the female is reddish-brown. The juvenile looks like the female, as does the male in non-breeding plumage, although his crest is browner.

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