Common Merganser

Hey guys, welcome back! Today, we complete our merganser trifecta! The third and last of the North American mergansers we get to explore is the common merganser. Despite its name, it’s the merganser I’ve seen least. Central Park was filled with hooded mergansers every winter, and I’ve seen red-breasted mergansers by the hundreds on Lake Erie, but the common I’ve only ever seen a few of. I ran into a birder a couple weeks ago who was commenting the same thing. He said, “they call them common, but I never see any.” Well, they are fairly common further west. There’s a large area of their range in the Rockies where they’re found year round, presumably in larger numbers than in the east. They breed in central Canada, and according to Cornell can be found up there “without much trouble.”

My first common merganser was on Central Park’s reservoir. They aren’t very common in the park, and this ended up being the only one I saw while I lived in NYC. This past fall and winter, I did come across a number of them, usually mixed in with red-breasted mergansers on Lake Erie. I’ve never seen one up close, and only have one admittedly bad photo of three females.

The common merganser is the largest of the three North American mergansers. The male has a dark iridescent green head and white body. Their backs are black and they have a bright red bill. Unlike the males of the other two merganser species, male common mergansers lack a crest. Females are similar in look to female red-breasteds, but with a bit more contrast in color. They sport a slight crest, and have a rich, cinnamon brown head, white throat patch, white breast and gray body. Like other mergansers, they have a long, thin serrated bill used to dive for fish. They gotta watch their backs though as gulls and sometimes even bald eagles will try and steal their catch to avoid the hard work of catching fish themselves. Speaking of water birds with serrated, fish-catching bills, we have another cormorant species up next! See you then.

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