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Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus)


In an effort to meet the objectives of the management plan, four key ‘issues and actions’ will be addressed.  These actions encompass the strategies required to properly protect, maintain and improve the eastern North American Harlequin Duck population and its habitat. 

The primary issues to be addressed in this plan will include the development of a comprehensive threat assessment for the Harlequin Duck within eastern North America, and the establishment of an acceptable Harlequin Duck monitoring program for wintering, moulting, and breeding locations to adequately evaluate overall population parameters.  See Sections 6 and 7 for further implementation information.

Management priorities for the Harlequin Duck population of Atlantic Canada and Québec have been assigned to four key categories as follows:

1.     Population Management

2.     Habitat Management and Threats

3.     Research

4.     Socio-politics and Communication

5.1  Population Management

5.1.1 Issue explanation and description

Understanding the population dynamics of the eastern Harlequin Duck is important to properly managing the species.  A demographic model is a common management tool for the decision making process regarding species at risk (Beissinger and Westphal 1998).  An assessment of the data quality is required before embarking on this process.  Gaps in knowledge can be identified during this assessment process.

Population numbers in eastern North America are probably still low relative to historic levels (Palmer 1949, Goudie 1989, Montevecchi et al. 1995).  Monitoring projects for the eastern North American wintering population have proved successful for assessing this population, however other areas of the range have little or no monitoring effort.  As a result the status of the population outside of what we observe during winter in eastern North America is not well known.  Confounding this issue is the relative inaccessibility of the more northern population and the Greenland wintering population.  Appropriate and statistically valid monitoring programs must be established for known breeding, moulting, and wintering locations.  Monitoring is ongoing at some moulting locations and periodically at breeding sites.  Winter monitoring for the eastern North American population is the most consistent, with four locations being monitored annually in February/March by comparable methods and observers.  This methodology needs to be revisited to ensure statistical validity.  Overall, a consistent and acceptable survey methodology should be developed to address this need based on the appropriation of resources as well as program priorities of jurisdictions with management accountability. 

While much effort has gone into surveying Harlequin Ducks over the last 15 years, there is still potential breeding habitat that has not been surveyed for the presence of Harlequin Ducks. 

The identification of “management units” is an important component of effective conservation programs (Moritz 1994).  In this case, a management unit can be defined as a group of individuals of a species that demonstrate a level of reproductive isolation from other conspecifics.  Only through a more comprehensive assessment of our Harlequin Duck population through monitoring and research will we be in a position to effectively and accurately delineate management units. 

5.1.2 Actions

1.   Using current estimates of productivity and survivorship from the eastern North American population, develop a dynamic population model to assess current population trends and the acceptable population level for long term viability.

2.   Continue monitoring the eastern North American wintering population at important locations across their range.  

3.   Statistically assess the monitoring program as it stands to determine the need for a more comprehensive monitoring program.

4.   Implement a survey program for previously unsurveyed areas that have the potential to be breeding grounds for Harlequin Ducks, and may be impacted by development and human disturbance. 

5.   Develop consistent protocols for surveying and monitoring the population across all jurisdictions, as well as how this information is presented to the public and the scientific community.

6.   Work toward a monitoring strategy with the Greenland Government for southwest Greenland that may offer more definitive insight into population size and trend in that area.

7.   Limit hunting to the extent possible. 

8.   Promote and facilitate the exchange and publication of Harlequin Duck information from countries of the Northwest Atlantic that may assist with the management of the species.

9.   Delineate “management units”.

10.Maintain databases.

5.2   Habitat Protection 

5.2.1 Issue explanation and description

As has already been discussed at length, Harlequin Ducks are widely distributed across the landscape, and are exposed to a variety of threats throughout their range.  As a result, a key recommendation of this plan will be the development of a comprehensive threat assessment to properly quantify the impacts of the possible threats.

In eastern North America there are presently several protected areas utilized by Harlequin Ducks for breeding, wintering, moulting and staging sites: 


  • Gros Morne National Park of Canada: breeding, moulting and staging site
  • Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve: wintering and a few moulting individuals in addition to small numbers of non-breeders that maintain a year-round residency


  • Gannet IslandsEcological Reserve: moult site
  • TorngatMountainsNational Park Reserve of Canada: breeding, staging and possibly moulting site


  • ForillonNational Park of Canada: moult site
  • Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve of Canada: staging site
  • Parc national de l’île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé: moult site
  • Parc national de la Gaspésie: potential breeding site

Nova Scotia

  • Eastern IslandsManagement Area (EIMA): wintering site
  • Port Hebert Migratory Bird Sanctuary: wintering site
  • KejimkujikNational Park Seaside Adjunct: wintering site
  • Port Joli Migratory Bird Sanctuary: wintering site

Maine, USA

  • Acadia National Park[1]: wintering site

Rhode Island, USA

  • Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge1: wintering site

5.2.2 Actions

1.     Refine a habitat protection strategy for important breeding, moulting, staging, and wintering Harlequin Duck locations.

2.     In accordance with the Federal Species at Risk Act, determine where Harlequin Ducks breed, moult and winter on federal property. 

3.     Establish communication with forestry companies to develop and adopt forestry management strategies intended to minimize impacts on Harlequin Ducks.

4.     Foster relationships with hydroelectric companies in areas of the Harlequin Duck breeding range to ensure proper management and mitigation of both large and small scale hydro development impacts on Harlequin Ducks.

5.     Develop a proactive relationship with the aquaculture industry.  Information sharing as to where potential aquaculture sites may be established. 

6.     Continue to work in a preventative capacity to reduce chronic oil pollution off the coast of eastern North America.

7.     Monitor and mitigate use of pesticides to control Diptera populations due to increasing threats from West Nile Disease in watersheds known to host breeding and/or staging Harlequin Ducks.

8.     Train Environmental Assessment officers and biologists in the various federal government departments, as well as in other jurisdictions, organizations, and industry that may be involved with environmental assessment.

5.3  Research

5.3.1 Issue explanation and description

Demographic parameters required for accurate population projection models and survival have yet to be determined.  Analysis is ongoing that will allow for more accurate demographic information in the future.  There are also questions with regard to genetic relationships among Greenland and eastern North America, which speak to population structure and management units.  Additionally, habitat data both in regard to preferred parameters and available baseline habitat information is limited or not available.

5.3.2 Actions

1.     Complete the ongoing genetic studies to determine individual and population level affiliations within the Northwest Atlantic.

2.     Complete analysis of mark – recapture studies that will add to demographic knowledge of this species in eastern North America. 

3.     Determine if present known habitat is sufficient to maintain a viable and sustainable Harlequin Duck population in eastern North America.

4.     Determine the possible long-term consequences of human encroachment on breeding, moulting and wintering habitat in eastern North America.

5.     Conduct a comprehensive threat assessment that would allow for greater insight into the possible threats to the species and to the species’ habitat at multiple geographic scales.  

6.     Complete impact assessment studies of ecotourism, aquaculture, forestry practices, hydroelectric development, chronic and catastrophic oiling, near shore commercial fishing, and the impacts of low-level flying military aircraft.

5.4  Socio-politics and Communications

5.4.1 Issue explanation and description

In many areas of the Harlequin Duck range in eastern North America there are long standing traditions of seaduck hunting.  Despite a complete hunting ban on Harlequin Ducks in the Atlantic Flyway since 1990, the Harlequin Duck is often mistaken for other species of seaduck at various times of the year, and is hunted accidentally.  Current Canadian Wildlife Service policy provides for complete prohibition of hunting of Harlequin Ducks; a policy that has received wide support from native and non-native organizations.  Complete protection of the Harlequin Duck will be important for their conservation.

Management scenarios for the species may be viewed locally in terms of the possible economic gain for the community.  It is important that management strategies recognize the need for potential economic opportunities within these communities and work, to the extent possible, toward helping achieve them without jeopardizing the continued survival of the species.

Despite its listing on the Species at Risk Act legal list, the Harlequin Duck is not widely known.  Communication and education materials available on the Harlequin Duck are limited.  Improved and targeted communications with hunters, communities, aboriginal groups, industry, enforcement agencies, conservation groups etc. is vital for ensuring protection for the species.

5.4.2 Actions

  1. Development of educational materials.
  2. Promote Habitat Stewardship Programs and other stewardship initiatives for the Harlequin Duck.
  3. Assemble information packages on the Harlequin Duck for distribution to all pertinent law enforcement agencies in eastern North America.
  4. Conduct public information sessions in areas of known concentrations of Harlequin Ducks.
  5. Promote the established codes of practice and standards with Environmental Assessment officers. 
  6. Enforce regulations and promote education in local areas to reduce the level of accidental/illegal hunt of the species.

[1] No associated marine component to this protected area.