Male Harlequin duck

Harlequin male in winter (click for larger view)

Surely there can’t be a more dapper duck than the male Harlequin.

This natty bird seems appropriately named. In Renaissance Italy, Harlequin was a stock character in Commedia dell’arte – the popular improvisational theatre form of the time.

Originally a nimble, acrobatic clown or witty servant, Harlequin (AKA Arlecchino and Arlequin) wore a ragged shirt and trousers covered with colourful patches. Later this became a neat array of  triangles and diamond shapes as the character evolved over decades and through generations of actors in Italy, France, Spain and other European countries.

It’s not just the common name that fits this bird – it’s also the scientific name, Histrionicus histrionicus. I can’t help thinking that Carl Linnaeus had a sense of humour when he classified these birds back in 1758, considering the dictionary definitions of “histrionics”: (1) theatrical performances (2) a deliberate display of emotion for effect. If you’ve watched Harlequins diving or dabbling as they feed, or heard their piercing whistles and squeaks or the female’s nasal calls, you’ll appreciate that Latin name.

Here are a few more photos (click on an image to view them in larger, gallery format, or to comment on a specific image). All were taken at Drumbeg Park on Gabriola Island on a sunny winter day – when the Harlequins put on a much appreciated performance.

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About Laurie MacBride, Eye on Environment

Photographer focused on nature and nautical on the BC coast

8 responses »

  1. What an absolutely delightful post and feature here, Laurie! I hadn’t seen these in our area before, so I not only really enjoyed the photos but also the backstory behind them. Terrific work, my good friend!

  2. Dirk says:

    Great collection of images Laurie!

  3. Sherry Galey says:

    This is certainly one of the loveliest ducks I have ever seen. So interesting to learn about. And your captures really do it justice. Fantastic, Laurie.

  4. Laurie these are fabulous photos, it is very hard to find them let alone get some good shots. Lovely colours and very beautiful. Judith Madsen

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