The Saw-bill Red-breasted Merganser

March 31, 2015  •  3 Comments

On the New England coast exists a slender seabird commonly referred to as a Sheldrake, better known as the Red-breasted Merganser.  The most widespread of all the mergansers, the Red-breasted Merganser is a fish-eating duck with a long, narrow, serrated beak.
 

During the mating season, the male Red-breasted Merganser has a dark, metallic-green head with a shaggy, double pointed crest, a white collar around its neck, and of course, a red breast.  The female is grayish brown overall with a reddish head, and a white chin, neck and breast.
 

The Red-breasted Merganser breeds in the far north including northern Canada and Alaska.  They are considered a migratory duck throughout most of Pennsylvania.  Although, some may winter over around Lake Erie and the southeast tip around Philadelphia.
 

While they don't breed in Pennsylvania, it is possible to see the unusual courtship behavior during their brief stay.  There could be one to many males vying for a single female. Red-breasted MerganserRed-breasted MerganserFemale
 

One dark, dreary, and I must add, snowy day in late March, my wife, Elena, and I traveled to icy Pymatuning State Park to photograph waterfowl in an open patch of water.  We witnessed the nuptial performance of one male Red-breasted Merganser.  Although the weather subdued the colors a bit, I'd like to share the experience.
 

The display of movement, voice and plumage begins with the male stretching up his long neck so that the white ring is expanded, and his metallic green head and narrow red bill make him stand out to the female.

Red-breasted MerganserRed-breasted MerganserNuptial performance

 

 

Red-breasted MerganserRed-breasted MerganserNuptial performance

 

Then, with the bill wide open and stiffly bobbing in the water in a way that the breast and lower neck are immersed, the tail and posterior of his body swing upward.

Red-breasted MerganserRed-breasted MerganserNuptial performance

 

 

Red-breasted MerganserRed-breasted MerganserNuptial performance

 

Males also get into a characteristic posture of tucking their head into their shoulders causing their chest to pop out.  His crest will become erect as he points his bill upward.

Red-breasted MerganserRed-breasted MerganserNuptial performance

 

Red-breasted MerganserRed-breasted MerganserNuptial performance

 

Occasionally, he raised his wings slightly and splashed violently using his wings and feet as propulsion.
 

Red-breasted MerganserRed-breasted MerganserNuptial performance
Red-breasted MerganserRed-breasted MerganserNuptial performance


It was very interesting watching this lone male displaying for the female.  Once the partners pair up, the female will begin searching for a nest site, usually amongst other ducks, gulls, or terns.

Below is a pair of Red-breasted Merganser flying through the snow.

Red-breasted MerganserRed-breasted Merganser

 

Moving along with a few more photos from another day of shooting at the lake.  Below is a shot of a small flock circling a small opening in the ice.

Red-breasted MerganserRed-breasted Merganser

 

And of course, landing on the thin, transparent ice can be tricky.  They just slide along on their bellies until they can get their footing.  Of course, these females in this photo better watch out for the male flying in from behind.  They are about to get brought down like a couple of bowling pins.
 

Red-breasted MerganserRed-breasted Merganser

 

More spring waterfowl photo blogs are on the way. 

Take care and thanks for looking,

Dan


Comments

Willard Hill(non-registered)
Well done, Dan. This is one of my favorite ducks and you wrote a very informative post with excellent photos.
Jan(non-registered)
Dan...
you are a gifted storyteller...your nature photograpy is outstanding.
Do you share on the Fred Miranda site? If not, you should...
As noted in the previous comment from the science teacher...you'd be a treasure in the classroom (I'm a retired elementary science teacher)
the kids so need this today...a respite from all of the unnecessary testing nonsense.
Carry on...looking forward to your next blog. Welcome spring!
Ed Atts(non-registered)
Extremely well done. As a retired science instructor, duck hunter, and photographer, I enjoy all your blogs and really appreciate receiving them.
No comments posted.
Loading...

Archive
January February (1) March (1) April May June (1) July August (1) September October November December (1)
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June (3) July (5) August (5) September (1) October November (1) December
January (1) February March April May June (4) July August September October (1) November (2) December (1)
January February March April May June (1) July (1) August September October November December (1)
January (1) February March (1) April May June (1) July (3) August September October (1) November December
January (1) February March April May June July August September October November December