Wild Profile: Meet the common merganser

Updated: June 3, 2019

By Glass and Nature/Shutterstock

In many bird species, it’s the males who are the eye candy (think peacocks, ruby-throated hummingbirds, and mallard ducks). Common mergansers are no exception: breeding males have iridescent green heads and bright red bills. But Ma merganser has her own distinct and very recognizable look—a cool, spikily crested orange head.

Unlike some ducks, mergansers are largely fish eaters. Their bills are long, with a serrated edge; this allows the birds to hang on to super-slippery underwater prey, including minnows, sculpin, and even eel.

Mergansers don’t nest on the water. Instead, females lay their eggs high up in empty tree cavities nearby. Ducklings hatch in June, but they don’t stay in the nursery for long. Within a day or so, baby mergansers launch themselves out of the tree, fall to the ground, and waddle to the water. Pretty brave: we’re talking about a drop of up to 100 feet. Did someone yell “Geronimo!”?

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