Monday, April 20, 2015

Red-breasted Mergansers

There have been a couple of occasions when a small flock of Mergansers have visited the marsh pond. I am not sure whether they are Common Mergansers or Red-breasted Mergansers. Both appear very similar in general appearance and they have not come in close enough to take very good photos for identification. Note how far back on their body their legs are placed. This is a good indication of a bird whose niche is diving and swiming underwater. Loons, Grebes, Mergansers, and diving ducks such as Ruddies all have this same characteristic.

I believe they are Red-breasted Mergansers for a couple of reasons. They prefer shallow water such as the shallow Bay water at the top of the photo as well as the shallow pond. They also have ragged looking crests, the long feathers at the back of the head.  Each time I have seen them, they have come in from the shallow waters on the other side of the road.

As quickly as these birds came, they left when an Eagle appeared overhead. They are not gone long, however, and as soon as they feel the danger has passed, they return. Mergansers have decidedly pointy wings compared to many other waterfowl.

Part of what is throwing me is the fact that these birds don't appear to be in breeding colors, although I should think they ought to be right now. Some have darker heads like the one in the middle here, but none have the dark green-black color of a breeding male.

The ones with the slightly reddish heads are females; the one with the dark circle around it's eye may be a male — but don't quote me on that. It could simply be a bird that needs more sleep.

Once they begin fishing, they are very fast. They fish cooperatively, all diving at roughly the same time and driving the fish ahead of them. The water in this photo is probably not much more than a foot deep, but they become very animated, racing around excitedly. Both Common and Red-breasted Mergansers have a serrated bill like a saw, which gives them an advantage when catching fish.

I wish they had been able to come in closer to my location, but the vantage point from where I shoot is too shallow for them to fish.

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