SIB “Bird of the Week” – Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser – Mergus serrator
Length:  23″; Wingspan: 30″; Weight: 36.8 oz.

Female Red-breasted Mergansers – Ed Konrad

If you missed Friday’s “Who am I?” – here it is again:  Two truths and a lie.

  1. I love to spend most of the year in the north ranging as far north as Alaska but I spend the winters along both the east and west coasts of the US and as far south as Mexico.
  2. I am a member of the duck family and my principal diet is fish.
  3. You most likely will find me in the winter around inland waterways such as ponds and rivers.

If you guessed the lie to be finding me in the winter around inland waterways (#3), you are correct. I prefer to be on the shore in the winter and am most likely to be spotted among piers and jetties.

The Red-Breasted Merganser has a distinct crest raked to the rear of his head. The male has a blackish head with a green gloss and a black crest. The male has a white ring band around the neck and a streaked chestnut breast to the waterline. The body is mostly gray with black upper-parts along the wings.

Male Red-breasted Merganser – Ed Konrad

The female has a rusty brown crest, hood and neck and a grayish brown body. Both male and female have a narrow red bill. The males can easily be identified as separate from the common merganser which has a predominantly white body and the hooded merganser which has a white crest that can be raised like a fan. The females differ themselves from the other mergansers because of their shorter crest and grayish brown upper-parts. The Red-breasted Merganser is one of the fastest flying ducks and can be seen taking off running with wings flapping across either water or land.

Two females & a male Red-breasted Mergansers – Ed Konrad

Their main diet is fish and they dive and swim underwater to catch fish. The young are brought in broods with an adult female as soon as a few days after hatching. Initially, the young will feed on insects, tadpoles and worms. Within two months after hatching, they are capable of flight.

The Red-breasted Merganser is unique in that it builds its nests on the ground. They usually seek out sheltered spots in hollowed out logs, under rocks or in shallow burrows. The eggs, 5 to 16 in number, incubate over a period of 29 to 35 days and the young leave the nest after one day.

Red-breasted Mergansers – Ed Konrad

The Red-breasted Merganser spends the summers from eastern Canada all the way to Alaska. The winter range extends throughout the eastern and western coasts all the way down to Mexico. The number of these birds are sufficient to consider the breed sustainable but they form dense concentrations at times such as late fall when a substantial portion is in the Lake Erie area. This could expose them to an environmental threat.

They are usually silent or have hoarse croak.  The best location to find these birds on Seabrook Island is from the beach swimming on the ocean or flying over it in winter.   View this video for a short clip of a male and female Red-breasted Merganser.

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

Range map of Red-breasted Merganser – Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Article submitted by: Ron Schildge
Photographs provided by: Ed Konrad

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

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Author: sibirders

SEABROOK ISLAND BIRDERS / “watching, learning, protecting” Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) are residents, renters and guests of Seabrook Island, SC who have an interest in learning, protecting and providing for the well-being of the incredible variety of birds that inhabit Seabrook Island throughout the year.

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