Harlequin Ducks Dead – Just because it is legal that doesn’t make it right!

/, Birds, Harlequin Ducks, Utah, Wildlife Ethics & Etiquette/Harlequin Ducks Dead – Just because it is legal that doesn’t make it right!

First there was one, then there were three

From September 30, 2011 until November 25, 2011 birders, bird photographers, locals and tourists were treated to a rarity on the Antelope Island State Park Causeway when on September 30th a female Harlequin Duck showed up at the first “No Swimming Bridge” then later when a male juvenile molting into adult plumage and another female appeared it was even better.

Harlequin Duck femaleHarlequin Duck female – October 30, 2011

These Harlequin Ducks are rare in Utah and at the time the first female showed up it would be the 13th record as noted on the Utah Bird Records Committee’s website and likely only the 7th officially accepted and documented. The three Harlequin Ducks seen from September until late November were very well documented as it seemed that every day someone was viewing and photographing them. Many times when driving by that bridge there would be cars lined up 5 in a row and people were out admiring the rare visitors to Utah from a respectful distance.

Harlequin Duck male Harlequin Duck male – October 30, 2011

The first time I saw the male I presumed; incorrectly, that it was another female Harlequin Duck but I soon realized that it was a young male. I was tickled just to see him period and even more so when we could all see that he was molting.

Harlequins are small, sturdy sea ducks that normally winter along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. They are not common inland during the winter.

Harlequin Duck femaleHarlequin Duck female – October 30, 2011

While on the island if I saw people with binocs scanning their surroundings I would get out of the vehicle and ask them if they were birders, if they were I would tell them about our rare and beautiful visitors. I wanted to share our good fortune with others as many other people in this area did.  People blogged about the rare birds and the Utah birders list servs were buzzing about the Harlequins. There were almost daily reports about the ducks.

I didn’t even give a thought to hunters reading the posts on birding blogs, forums and list servs. But those posts were being watched very carefully by some duck hunters.

I am not a hunter though long ago I did do some deer hunting (never killed one) I now only shoot with my camera, I am not against hunting when it is done in an ethical manner. I have in the past written about my disgust for game farm or canned hunts, in my opinion that type of activity should not be called “hunting” and from my research into canned hunts most hunters feel much the same way I do. My post about that is here.

Harlequin Duck maleHarlequin Duck male – October 30, 2011

As days became weeks the male Harlequin began to show some signs of blue on his back and face, the white bands on his back became more clearly defined and the rusty crown stripe began to appear. What a handsome duck he was, I enjoyed seeing the Harlequins as I drove to or from the island on the causeway and was delighted to see so many cars parked there at the bridge with out of state plates hoping to see our celebrity ducks.

Harlequin Duck female Harlequin Duck female – November 17, 2011

During the time period that the Harlequins were near the causeway they stayed primarily near the first bridge, I do recall the male being reported once at the second bridge but it appeared that he went back to the first bridge to hang around the females.

The last date the Harlequins were reported to have been seen was November 25th and at that time I wondered if the birds had flown to the Pacific Ocean to spend the rest of the winter but have recently found out that the birds were shot and killed and that it was perfectly legal. Duck hunters can shoot along the Antelope Island causeway as long as they follow certain restrictions like not shooting from a vehicle or firing from or over the road.

The Harlequins were “sitting ducks”. And then there were none.

harlequin-duck-male-mia-mcpherson-0137Harlequin Duck male – November 17, 2011

 There is a thread on a hunting forum that can be read here about the Harlequin Ducks that is interesting as it seems that there were hunters who expressed hope that the rare Harlequin Ducks would not be shot. Others seemed to be chomping at the bit to shoot an “exotic” duck despite them being rarity.

To those hunters who recognized and respected the rarity of those beautiful and very uncommon birds, you have my respect and I am personally very grateful that you preferred to give these ducks a pass even though you knew that hunting them was legal.

To those hunters who argued about the legality versus the ethics of killing the Harlequin Ducks:

Prostitution is legal in our neighboring state of Nevada, perfectly legal. But does that make it right to drive to Nevada and cheat on your spouse? Why not ask your spouse or significant other if they think cheating is right? It is a no brainer but you may want to think about it.

Just because it is legal that doesn’t make it right.


PS, duck hunters are no longer allowed to hunt close to the causeway. A win for the birds!



  1. Olly Mc Murdo December 18, 2011 at 5:01 am

    These Harlequins may have been the makings of a new territory for this species – very important in case there is ever an environmental disaster in their mainstay (or disease decimates the main population).
    I think there is a strong case for state by state hunting laws. Perhaps each state could list each bird (and mammal) which is readily abundant in that state and so not vulnerable to hunting – EVERYTHING else should be off limits.
    I am not anti-hunting. It doesn’t appeal to me but each unto their own. I do object strongly to the seaduck ‘massacres’ you see on youtube where a flock of heavy birds like eider come into roost and then 2 or more hunters open up on them – these birds are so heavy they need time to get airborn – if you aren’t shooting birds in full flight to me this is no sport at all.
    Good luck with your very worthy cause.

    • Mia McPherson December 18, 2011 at 6:48 am

      Hello Olly,

      I’m not anti-hunting either though because of this event I am reevaluating my thoughts on it. It is just so very sad that these ducks who brought so many people pleasure were probably shot just because they were rare.

      I’m hoping that in the New Year the causeway will have additional protections concerning hunting along it.

  2. Deb Potts December 15, 2011 at 9:58 am

    As always, your photos are beautiful and I really like the PSA attached to the Harlequin Ducks. I hope your images and these comments will help establish an IBA for your area.

    • Mia McPherson December 16, 2011 at 2:12 am

      Thanks Deb, Utah birders and bird photographers are working on getting more protections for the birds along the causeway. I’d love to see more Harelquins there in the upcoming years that stay because they ARE safe.

  3. Aristarkhos December 14, 2011 at 8:51 am

    My first reaction at your photographs of the harlequins was, they are so adorable looking. Normally, I do not call a bird ‘cute’. I don’t know why. But there is always a first time, I guess. These birds are so gosh-darned cute. Unfortunately, I was shocked to read that they are no more.

    Am as ticked off as the rest folks who have commented here. Really ticked off! What I do not understand is that if the birds are a rarity then why is it still legal to shoot ducks? And even though they might want to keep duck hunting legal, assuming that other species population is healthy, only would think they’d make an exception for this particular duck.

    I just read Laurence’s comment after my furious typing, which is more specific. At the same time, Mia, I would like to be positive and hope that one day Utah birders will get to relive these moments and hunters will have cultivated some ethics.

    • Mia McPherson December 16, 2011 at 2:07 am

      Aristarkhos, thank you for stopping by and reading this post. I think the Halequins were cute too and I miss seeing them in their normal place.

      The good news is that the birders and bird photographers voices are being heard and hopefully before long more protection will be set in place along the causeway to the island. Steps in that direction were started two days ago.

      Because they were a rarity a hunter may have shot them to have them stuffed and mounted for a “trophy”. I’d much rather see them alive.

  4. Julie Brown December 14, 2011 at 5:15 am

    A very sad story, Mia. I just do not understand why someone would be compelled to do this. What is the thrill in shooting a sitting duck, a rare one at that? I don’t understand the killing part anyway. Is it for the purpose of displaying a trophy? It is the ultimate act of selfishness.

    • Mia McPherson December 16, 2011 at 7:10 am


      It may have been that because they ducks are a rarity that the hunter did want to stuff and mount them, I know I would prefer to see live ducks to dead ones.

      The good news is that Utah birders and bird photographers are working on getting more protections set into place for the birds along the causeway to Antelope Island SP. As you know the causeway to the island is a terrific location for birds, I’d like to see it stay that way.

  5. Skip Harris December 13, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Mia, I have never hunted but I have two vet friends who do. I told them about your blog and this tread and they responded in kind. If a member of their hunt club to this, they would be kicked out immediately. They were both disgusted. They enjoy my photos I send them and they also know my wife is against any kind of hunting and keep off the subject when they visit. I may not be making any sense but the actions of these hunters has me very upset. Treasures lost is all I can say.

    • Mia McPherson December 13, 2011 at 5:56 pm

      Skip, yes, we lost a treasure when we lost the Harlequins. The good news is that this has motivated Utah birders, bird lovers and bird photographers to seek some additional protections for the birds along the causeway to Antelope Island State Park. I hope to one day soon write a post about that happening. Antelope Island State Park and the causeway that goes to it is known world wide for the amazing birds that can be found there and it is a huge tourist attraction, it is my hope that the powers that be will recognize that fact.

  6. Bob Zeller December 12, 2011 at 8:28 am

    A great post, Mia. I am enraged that people would be so uncaring. I read your post about the hunting on the so-called Preserves. It is not hunting. We have much of the same here in Texas. The ranchers are turning to it more and more to make money. A person can pay thousands of dollars to have the privilege to sit in a blind, next to a deer feeder, and watch the deer walk by to get shot. This is hunting??? I think not.

    I don’t hunt, except with my camera, and I prefer to do it in the wild, rather than in Preserves or Zoos. I make exceptions with Wildlife Refuges, because I feel that the birds and animals are not captive there. They are free to roam, and come and go.

    I agree with you, those Harlequin Ducks should have been given a pass, simply because they were a rarity in your area.

    • Mia McPherson December 13, 2011 at 5:49 pm


      Thanks for leaving your thoughts about this subject. The birders in Utah are pulling together to work on a solution for the causeway that goes to Antelope Island State Park to protect the birds that rest there. There are so many great concerned birders and bird photographers in Utah that it fills me with joy.

      I really despise places that called themselves animal preserves that offer canned hunts. That isn’t hunting, it is slaughtering. It really is a shame because it gives hunting a black eye.

  7. Dan Huber December 12, 2011 at 6:00 am

    very good post about a sad situation Mia

    • Mia McPherson December 12, 2011 at 7:51 am

      It is a very sad situation Dan but we are all working to get this area declared an IBA, that would help the birds.

  8. Laurence B December 10, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    Unfortunately, there are some people who have to pursue their trophy on a selfish way (shooting and stuffing the duck instead of taking their picture). I think states should be able to apply the Endangered Species Act at a more local and specified level. Maybe there are decent populations up in Western Canada, but the Harlequins were extremely rare in Utah, and should have been protected.

    Sorry for the loss, all you Utah birders.

    • Mia McPherson December 11, 2011 at 6:23 am

      Laurence, thank you for your very kind comment. I think what bothers me a lot is that although Harelquin Duck populations are not on the decline in North America and the population estimate is as high as 205,000, we only had THREE reported in Utah and now they are gone. They should have had a pass from being hunted because they are a rarity.

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