Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Winter Visitors - Mergansers

Mergansers have their own subfamily (Merginae) among the larger duck family. They're built slimmer, more streamlined, they have narrow beaks with serrated mandibles (the better to chew fish with) rather than the usual duckbill, and... they don't quack. They make grunting or croaking sounds, but they don't quack. Go figure.

I love Mergansers because they look so elegant gliding across the water. And they're just so exotic-looking. The crests on the male Hooded Mergansers are like nothing else. These are the elite socialites of the duck world; when I see them I think of sequined gowns and dry martinis. So cool!

This is a female Common Merganser swimming with the Mallards on Gooseneck Cove. I've never been able to get a shot of a male Common, and they're the really elegant ones. Mergansers are people-shy generally, but Common and Hooded Mergansers seem to be the shyest, and they're very hard to photograph.

This is a female Hooded Merganser on Easton's Pond. We'll be looking at a whole flock of Hoodies at the end of this post, but I had to include this lone female shot because this is the closest I've ever been able to get to a Hoodie, male or female, so I'm fond of the shot.

This is a pair of male Red-Fronted Mergansers. Red-Fronts are the most common of the Merganser family in the Newport area; they're everywhere - in Newport Harbor (where this shot was taken), in the ocean off the Cliff Walk and Ocean Drive, in Narragansett Bay, and even on Gooseneck Cove.

And this is a female Red-Fronted Merganser. Same punk haircut, different colors. I'm more likely to bump into a female in certain areas, like here on Gooseneck Cove, whereas I see more males in Newport Harbor. On the ocean waters they're about even. I suspect that they like to form stag groups out of breeding season.

And speaking of breeding season, we now come to the central tale of today's post. Last March I was on the Cliff Walk, having been on a futile chase after some Harlequins. I figured I'd wasted an afternoon and was heading home. Just after I'd come out of the tunnel under Sheep Point and was heading around the little half-moon bay to the tunnel under the Chinese Tea House, I heard some odd noises, and looking down to the water, I saw the oddest sight. There were two Red-Fronted Merganser couples on the water, and the males were definitely making some strange moves. What I had done was stumble across a Merganser courting ritual, and the males were strutting their stuff before the females!

You know those fake birds that you perch on the lip of a water glass and it goes into that dipping motion? That's what this move looked like, although they were less smooth about it, making fast, jerky pecks at the water with their necks stiff.

The Merganser Limbo - How low can you go! how low can you go!

By the way, those gawping beaks weren't producing any more sound than an occasional croak. I guess the gaping maw is yet another Merganser love-lorn look.

"I'll take the high road, and you take the low road, and I'll get to Scotland afore ye!" I guess these guys were fans of Robbie Burrrrns.

"Stayin' aliiiiiiive!" What moves! John Travolta, eat your heart out. And just look at the adoring babes looking on; looks like nobody's going home alone after this dance.

Okay, after all that frenzied dancng, it's time to slow things down and cool off. So I'll leave you with this nice Autumnal shot of a flock of Hooded Mergansers on Gooseneck Cove, taken in November of 2005.

© 2005 - 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger


  1. Seriously, serrated bills to chew their food? I didn't know any birds could do that? I wonder if they still have gizzards.


  2. ...haha! You crack me up..."Stayin' Alive"...it really looks like they are singing. Also love "sequined gowns and dry martinis." Very interesting post (as usual).

  3. ...forgot to tell you. I added your theory of "the masks" to the Banditry post. Thanks!! Sounded good to me!

  4. fantastic photos and your commentary is fabulous....although now I'm fighting a staying alive earworm, thank you very much!

    I've always found mergansers so special - sporting those dos that they do! and I never thought there was anything common about a common merganser!

    hey I like this word 'gawping' ....new to me, it's a most excellent scrabble word! thanks!!

    I can't wait to your celebration of loons and grebes....

  5. Man, I so want to head over to Irvine Park today and feed the ducks!!! :)

    This is a great series of posts. I'm digging it.

  6. You are having so much fun with ducks...

    Old rock & roll never dies - it just makes for caption hilarity. I've always loved doo-waddle doo-wap for shakin' a tail feather.

    Love the Guy Noir doll... I gotta get me one. It would look great next to my TROLLS.