Friday, January 18, 2008

Red-breasted Merganser--Mergus serrator

Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife (Dave Menke, Photographer)--Red-Breasted Merganser Male in breeding plumage.

The Red-breasted Merganser is a wild-looking diving duck with a shaggy, double crest. In breeding plumage, the male has a dark green head, white collar and black-and-white shoulder. The female has an auburn head with a shaggy double crest. To hear how to pronounce Merganser: Click here for the Merriam Webster Dictionary pronunciation.

You Tube close-up video of a Red-breasted Merganser Female--Note that the sound of wind in the background is loud!

The Red-breasted Merganser has a thin, serrated bill that grabs tightly to slippery, slithery prey. Red-breasted Mergansers eat fish and also sometimes fish in groups similar to American White Pelicans. Groups of Red-breasted Mergansers will herd the fish into the shallows where the birds can easily feast on them. Their fishing habits also benefit other birds who fish in the shallows like the Snowy Egrets mentioned in a Sora article by Emlen and Ambrose listed in the references below. Red-breasted Mergansers also eat aquatic insects, crustaceans and other prey.

Red-breasted Merganser male in breeding plumage swimming--loud wind in the background.

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.

Red-breasted Merganser at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve--I can't tell male from female yet.

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.

Close-up of a Red-breasted Merganser Male in Breeding Plumage.

To learn how to pronounce Merganser: Click here for the Merriam Webster Dictionary pronunciation.

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.

See other ducks that live or winter in Orange County, California.

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.

Electronic book " Arthur Cleveland Bent and his collaborators and published in a twenty-one volume series between 1919 and 1968 by the United States Government Printing." Very interesting account.

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.

Great photos of this bird. Both male and female birds.

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.

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