The courtship of the Red-breasted Merganser involves the male display which is swimming after the female and stretching up its neck and then making a call describes by many as "yeowing," and pulling its head down in a bow-like gesture. See it on the Internet Bird Collection. Sometimes it is performed by several males trying to get one female's attention. Red-breasted Mergansers breed in North America across Canada and in Alaska. We in Orange County see them in fall and winter as they migrate south. They can also be found outside North America in Europe.
Telling male from female is easy in the Spring. The male has a green, shaggy head in breeding plumage. The female has an auburn head. But we don't see the Red-breasted Merganser in breeding plumage. We see them in fall and winter. The male also has a shaggy auburn head in eclipse plumage. The wing pattern remains the same, so look sharp in fall and winter and you may be able to tell by the wing pattern if you are looking at a male or female Red-breasted Merganser. If you figure it out, let me know. That part is still challenging for me.
Red-breasted Merganser at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.
Red-breasted Mergansers are a very enjoyable to watch. They dive and swim in the channels and larger water areas at Bolsa Chica and Upper Newport Bay.
Swimming Red-breasted Merganser at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
At first glance their behavior can seem similar to loons, but looking at the bill and the unkempt appearance sets them apart immediately.
Swimming Red-breasted Merganser male in breeding plumage with commentary from local birders.
Here is an interesting historical reference to Red-Breasted Mergansers at the Bolsa Chica Gun Club--now Ecological Reserve from SORA:
Red-breasted Merganser in Orange County, California, in June: "Rather hasty reference to available literature indicates but one summer record of the Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus senator) for California (see Squires, Condor, XVIII, 1916, p. 232). Therefore it seems desirable to record four individuals of this species positively identified on the grounds of the Bolsa Chica Gun Club, Orange County, California, June 9, 1931. The birds were swimming on a slough one mile south of Sunset Beach and were scrutinized at close range through binoculars. All appeared to be immatures in ragged plumage: one male had assumed but a trace of breeding plumage. No doubt immature and non-breeding individuals of this species remain along most of our coastline in summer, as do scoters and other ducks that breed far north but do not mature until the second summer.--James MOFFITT, 510 Russ Building, San Francisco, California, August 3, 1931."
Red-breasted Mergansers are still found there, but usually in fall and winter.
Wet and Wild Bird at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.
So when you are out birding in Orange County, California during Fall and Winter, check out the waterways for the Red-breasted Merganser. You just might see this very cool bird.
To learn how to pronounce Merganser: Click here for the Merriam Webster Dictionary pronunciation.
OC Birder Girl Links
Birding Hot Spots in Orange County, California
I see Red-breasted Mergansers at Bolsa Chica often in winter. See my post about The Birds of Bolsa Chica Versus Brightwater's Wall of Glass for information on the glass fence the housing development has put in above Bolsa Chica and the dangers many see in this being above the reserve.
Great place for wintering birds.
External Links and Resources
All About Birds: The Red-breasted Merganser
Detailed article on the Red-breasted Merganser
BirdWeb: Red-breasted Merganser
Good details from the Seattle Audubon Society.
The Internet Bird Collection: Red-Breasted Merganser
Some very good videos. Always clear.
Sora: Feeding interactions of Snowy Egrets and Red-breasted Mergansers
Interesting observations of how the feeding habits of a group a Red-breasted Mergansers benefited a group of Snowy Egrets. The Sora article summarizes an article appearing elsewhere by Emlen and Ambrose. Similar behavior has also been mentioned in Sora's Cooperative feeding behavior in Red-breasted Mergansers.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds: The Red-breasted Merganser
Article from the UK on the Red-breasted Merganser.
USGS: The Red-breasted Merganser
Short, but good article on the Red-breasted Merganser.
Vireo: Red-breasted Merganser
Pictures of Red-breasted Merganser.
Ask the OC Birder Girl