Different plumage phases of Red-breasted Merganser Drakes

Male Red-breasted Merganser in breeding plumage

Male Red-breasted Merganser in breeding plumage

Awhile back someone told me (in a comment on this blog) that Mergansers don’t change their plumage seasonally, which is incorrect as all three species of mergansers that live in North America do. The image above shows a Red-breasted Merganser drake in breeding plumage, I took this image at a pond very close to where I live in Salt Lake County, Utah.

Note the very dark head, striking black and white patterns on the back of the merganser and evidence of the red breast this species gets part of its name from. Don’t you just love the shaggy, punk rock do these birds have?

Male Red-breasted Mergansers in eclipse plumageMale Red-breasted Mergansers in eclipse plumage

All three of the birds in the image above are male Red-breasted Mergansers in eclipse plumage and look remarkably different than the male in breeding plumage shown above. Or maybe these mergansers are just females that got a really bad deal on smoky eye shadows at Walgreens.

Seriously they are males in eclipse plumage photographed at Fort De Soto’s north beach in Florida.

It pays to have great Bird Guides, I have plenty on a shelf right above my computer monitor and keep one in the pickup, I also have two bird guide apps on my smart phone so I can use them anywhere I am without the weight of a book. Not only can the guides help with a bird’s identification they can also help us distinguish the various plumage phases of birds or if they change seasonally.

At any rate, I’d say that these images of Red-breasted Merganser drakes show there is a seasonal change in their plumage.


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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.


  1. That top photo is perfect! A little comical in the one below but all birds do go through a molt.

  2. These photos are beautiful with amazing detail and composition! Beautiful birds

  3. Thank you for the eclipse image! I didn’t start seeing a lot of Red-breasted Mergansers until I moved to Seattle, and I wasn’t 100 percent sure about the smoky eye rings and which phase they indicated.

  4. Mia, what do you recommend for a “really good bird guide”. There are so many to choose from. As I don’t have a smart phone and don’t carry around apps, is there something else on-line that works well for you?

    • Hi Gary, thanks for stopping by my site.

      The bird Guide book I most often reach for is my big Sibley Guide to Birds, in fact the binder on it has begun to crack I use it so much. Sibley is coming out with a new edition of it this year and I plan on buying it as soon as possible. I have many other guidebooks too and I use them as well.

  5. This is a delightful post, I love that joke about the Walgreens make-up.

  6. “Variety is the spice of life.” Apparently, ducks are pretty spicy ’cause it can be a challenge to figure out who is who as the fall, winter, spring can give them a startlingly different look! As you so expertly photographed!

  7. The plumage is so difference, I have never seen it like that, thanks for that. Beautiful pictures as well.

  8. Oh yeah they do! Although we most often only see them in breeding plumage as that is the only time they arrive this far north. I love their punk harido best of all!

  9. Great photos to accompany a fun yet educational story, Mia. (and btw: smoky eyes are ALL the rage – or at least they appear to be based on the scary images I last saw in Vogue…) :-)

  10. Thank you Mia for this info and for the awesome photos!

  11. Love them! Beautiful, Mia!
    they are too far away for me to get a pic.

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