Murie, Olaus J. (1959) FAUNA OF THE ALEUTIAN ISLANDS AND ALASKA PENINSULA, 1936-38, U.S. Dept. Interior, Fish & Wildlife Service, Washington. pg. 90
Harlequin Duck: Histrionicus histrionicus
Local name: Rock Duck
Aleut names: Attu : Kagh'-i-ach
Unalaska : Kang-a-rich
Russian, Commander Islands: Kamenuschka (Stejneger)
This is the most abundant duck in the Aleutian Islands. We found harlequin ducks at practically every island that we visited, singly sometimes, generally in small groups, and occasionally in larger flocks. It is safe to say that, at one time or another, harlequin ducks occur at every island, large or small, from Unimak to Attu. Stejneger has reported them to be common in the Commander Islands.
They were also found east of the Aleutians— at Amak Island, at Izembek Bay, and at False Pass. In the Shumagin group, we observed them at Unga, Nagai, and Simeonof Islands. They were at King Cove, the Barren Islands, Afognak, Port Chatham on Kenai Peninsula, and at Seward. Osgood (1904) observed them along the Egegik River and "about the mouths of the larger streams that empty into Becharof Lake." He found them to be common at Kanatak and Cold Bay, and he mentions specimens taken by McKay and Johnson at Igushik and Nushagak.
Cahalane (1944) reported harlequins in large numbers in the general region of Katmai National Monument in the fall of 1940, and Hine (1919) considered them to be one of the most common ducks in the Katmai Bay area in the summer of 1919. Cahalane also recorded them as being abundant in the Kodiak-Afognak group in the fall of 1940, where Gabrielson noted 200 on June 16, 1940. W. Sprague Brooks (1915) observed them on April 19, 1913, at the Semidi Islands, and on April 22, 1913, he saw them at King Cove.
Although these birds occur on the north side of Alaska Penin- sula, they are more common on the south side, which is more rugged. Evidently, these birds nest on Alaska Peninsula. On July 19, 1940, Gabrielson noted a pair flying along Kittiwake Creek, between Brooks and Naknek Lakes, and Friedmann (1935) states that Bretherton found them breeding in June on Kodiak Island. In the spring of 1925, I often observed two pairs along a stream just north of Aghileen Pinnacles, near the western end of Alaska Peninsula. Eventually, on June 3, only the males were seen; presumably, the females were nesting.
On July 16, 1911, Wetmore (manuscript notes) observed a fe- male and a group of young in King Cove.
It is difficult to determine the status of the harlequin ducks in the Aleutians. The natives insisted that they nest along streams and that their nests are very hard to find. In way of substantiation, we found no nests and no broods of young. However, we found these birds on islands that had no suitable nesting streams. On the other hand, Austin H. Clark (1910) reported: "It was common about Atka, where 1 or 2 were seen inland on a small stream ; on Attu and Agattu it was also numerous on the streams as well as along the coast."
Turner (1886) described a deserted nest on Unalaska Island, in a hollow formed by two blocks of rock. A native assured him that it was the nest of a harlequin duck. Here, again, our own experience was baffling. Though there were numerous cliffs and many available sites for nesting along the rocky shores, we saw no young brood throughout the two summers of observations. Wetmore, however, had pertinent observations at Kiska Island in 1911, when he says (manuscript notes) that some of them were already nesting along the base of a high rocky cliff, as they seemed very anxious while I was along there, those on the water whistling and swimming in small circles. I saw one or two females slipping quietly away from shore ahead of me, but flushed none from the beach itself.
Beals and Longworth found harlequin ducks wintering at Unimak Island, and stated that they nest there. Elsewhere in the Aleutians, natives said that they are more numerous in winter than in summer.
Stejneger (1885) found no evidence of nesting in the Commander Islands, and stated that the natives knew of no nesting.
From these various observations, it can be concluded that the harlequin ducks nest on the Alaska Peninsula, possibly rather commonly; that they also nest in numbers unknown in the Aleutian Islands; that immature birds, various nonbreeders, and males gather for the summer in these waters; and that they winter there in great numbers.
We had little opportunity to study food habits, and it must be assumed that, in the salt water, it consists of marine invertebrates. T he teacher of the native school at Atka informed us that in the autumn of 1936, when there was a large run of salmon up the streams of Atka Island, harlequin ducks were seen on the streams, presumably feeding on salmon eggs. However, we have no certain data on this subject.