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BC Conservation Data Centre: Conservation Status Report

Histrionicus histrionicus
Harlequin Duck

Scientific Name: Histrionicus histrionicus
English Name: Harlequin Duck
Provincial Status Summary
Status: S4B,S3N
Date Status Assigned: June 01, 1996
Date Last Reviewed: March 05, 2015
Reasons: Widespread, abundant breeder. Widespread abundant nonbreeder.
Range Extent: H = >2,500,000 square km
Range Extent Comments: Known to breed on coast only on Vancouver Island, the Fraser Lowlands, Sumalo River, and the Queen Charlotte Islands. Scattered breeder throughout the interior excluding the Peace Lowlands; no records from the mainland coast north of Coquitlam River; only 2 records from the central interior. Breeds from near sea level to 2,100m. Nonbreeders are primarily along the coast from s. Vancouver Island and the sw mainland coast north to the Queen Charlotte Islands and Portland Inlet on the north mainland coast; widely but sparsely ditributed throughout the interior (Campbell et al. 1990).
Occurrences & Population
Number of Occurrences: DE = 81 to >300
Comments: Widespread breeder. Widespread nonbreeder (D). Major concentrations of moulting birds (>100) occur at the northern end of the Strait of Georgia: Chatham Sound, west of McIntyre Bay, Campbell River area, Shelter Point, Mitlenatch Island, Oyster Bay, Cape Lazo, Comox Bay, Seal Islet, Helliwell Park, and Chain Islets. Major known wintering areas: Victoria area, eastern Vancouver Island mainly from Qualicum Beach north to Campbell River and northern Queen Charlotte Islands (Campbell et al. 1990).
Number of Occurrences with Good Viability / Ecological Integrity: Rank Factor not assessed
Number of Occurrences Appropriately Protected & Managed: B = 1 - 3
Comments: Wintering area: Naikoon Provincial Park. Somewhat protected moulting areas: Helliwell Provincial Park, Comox Slough (Nature Trust), Mitlenatch Island Nature Provincial Park, Shelter Point Park,
Population Size: E = 2,500 - 10,000 individuals
Comments: Estimated breeding population is 7,000 to 8,000 birds (Bellrose 1976). Nonbreeding (D) populations are unknown but estimated at a minimum of 6,000 (Breault and Savard 1991) up to the high 10,000s (Campbell et al. 1990). Goudie (1995) observed 4000 birds congregating at Hornby Island in mid-March 1995 (during spring herring spawn); and calculated a crude estimate for the wintering population in his Strait of Georgia study area of 16,500 birds.
Threats (to population, occurrences, or area affected)
Degree of Threat: Rank Factor not assessed
Comments: Potential loss of wintering habitat due to commercial, industrial, and recreational development of coastal areas. The largest known concentrations (e.g. Georgia Strait) occur where toxic pollutants are abundant (Waldichuk 1983). Logging, mining and grazing might affect productivity and the number of streams used by breeders (Harlequin Duck Working Group (by Cassirer et al.) 1993). Hunting permitted with bag limits of 8/day (Min. Environ. 1998), but unless harvest interests increase for this species does not pose a threat.
Trend (in population, range, area occupied, and/or condition of occurrences)
Short-Term Trend: U = Unknown
Comments: Analyses of Christmas Bird Counts (1975-1991) in 8 areas of the Strait of Georgia indicate: a nonsignificant gradual decline in numbers in 4 areas (Comox, Nanaimo, Pender Islands and White Rock); a nonsignificant increase in Ladner and Victoria; a significant decrease in Deep Bay; and a significant increase in Vancouver. Declines thought to be more significant than suggested as the number of observers/ area increased greatly during this time which would allow better area coverage. This may explain the increases in bird numbers in urban areas while masking the extent of decrease in more remote areas (Harlequin Duck Working Group by Cassirer et al. 1993).
Long-Term Trend: Rank Factor not assessed
Other Factors
Intrinsic Vulnerability: Rank Factor not assessed
Environmental Specificity: Rank Factor not assessed
Other Rank Considerations: There is evidence that males and nonbreeding females share moulting sites, which are also used during winter, and that birds return to the same moulting and wintering sites in subsequent years. Strong philopatry to wintering sites indicates the need to manage at a sub-population level (Breault and Savard 1999).
Information Gaps
Research Needs:
Inventory Needs: Inventory of major moulting and wintering areas following standardized inventory procedures (RIC 1997f, manual No.8). Robertson et al. (1999) suggest that to adequately assess the importance of any given patch of habitat to Harlequin Ducks, the habitat must be monitored throughout the entire nonbreeding season. As well, more surveys are needed to determine breeding population size and distribution.
Protection: Protection of major moulting and wintering areas. Robertson et al. (1999) recommends protecting nonbreeding habitats to ensure high annual adult survival as this factor has the greatest impact on the population dynamics of the the Harlequin Duck (Goudie et al. 1994). Conservation needs to be applied at the local level as Harlequin Ducks show strong site tenacity (Robertson et al. 1999). No collecting permits are issued for this species. Hunting regulations should be re-visited frequently, especially if hunting interest increases for this species as it could become a threat.
Author: Westereng, L.K.
Date: February 18, 2000
Bellrose, F.C. 1976. Ducks, geese, and swans of North America. Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 540 pp.
Breault, A., and J.-P. L. Savard. 1991. Status report on the distribution and ecology of Harlequin Ducks in British Columbia. Tech. Rep. Ser. No. 110, Pacific and Yukon Region, Canadian Wildl. Serv., Delta, B.C. 108pp.
Breault, A., and J.-P. L. Savard. 1999. Philopatry of Harlequin Ducks moulting in southern British Columbia. Pages 41-44 in R.I. Goudie, M.R. Petersen and G.J. Robertson (eds). Behaviour and ecology of sea ducks. Canadian Wildlife Service Occasional Paper No. 100. Delta, B.C. 88pp.
Campbell, R.W., N.K. Dawe, I.McT. Cowan, J.M. Cooper, G. Kaiser, and M.C.E. McNall. 1990. The Birds of British Columbia, Vol. 1. Nonpasserines: Introduction, Loons through Waterfowl. Royal B.C. Mus. in association with Environ. Can., Can. Wildl. Serv. 514pp.
Goudie, R.I. 1995. Demography of Harlequin Ducks in coastal British Columbia: 1994-95 Field Report. 29pp.
Goudie, R.I., S. Brault, B. Conant, A.V. Kondratyev, M.R. Petersen, and K. Vermeer. 1994. The status of sea ducks in the North Pacific Rim: toward their conservation and management. Pp. 27-49 in Trans. 59th North Am. Wildl. and Nat. Res. Conf., Wildl. Manage. Inst., Washington, DC.
Harlequin Duck Working Group. 1993. Status of Harlequin Ducks (Histrionicus histrionicus) in North America. 83pp.
Ministry of Forests. 1998. General Wildlife Measures for Identified Wildlife, Vol. 1. Part of Identified Wildlife Management Strategies for the Forest Practices Code of British Columbia. B.C. Minist. For. and B.C. Minist. Environ., Lands and Parks, Victoria, BC. 93pp.
Resource Inventory Committee. 1997d. Standardized Inventory Methodologies for Components of British Columbia's Biodiversity: Colonial Freshwater Nesters, version 1.1. Prepared for the Resour. Inventory Comm., B.C. Minist. Environ., Lands and Parks, Victoria, BC.
Robertson, G.J., F.Cooke, R.I.Goudie and W.S. Boyd. 1999. Within-year fidelity of Harlequin Ducks to a moulting and wintering area. Pages 45-51 in R.I. Goudie, M.R. Petersen and G.J. Robertson (eds). Behaviour and ecology of sea ducks. Canadian Wildlife Service Occasional Paper No. 100. Delta, B.C. 88pp.
Waldichuck, M. 1983. Pollution in the Strait of Georgia: a review. Can. J. Fish &Aquatic Sci. 40:1142-1167.

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Suggested Citation:

B.C. Conservation Data Centre. 2000. Conservation Status Report: Histrionicus histrionicus. B.C. Minist. of Environment. Available: (accessed Feb 6, 2023).