Common Merganser Drakes in the Winter

A mature Common Merganser drakeA mature Common Merganser drake – Nikon D300, handheld, f7.1, 1/500, ISO 500, +1.0 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

I haven’t posted any Common Mergansers lately and today I thought I would because we should start seeing them soon here in northern Utah. I usually see Common Merganser drakes in higher numbers starting around the middle to the end of November but I haven’t seen many this year at all including early spring. Adult Common Merganser Drakes are mostly white, have dark backs and dark green heads that can almost look black in certain light or iridescent green in brighter light. They have dark eyes compared to the reddish eyes of drake Red-breasted Mergansers.

All mergansers have “saw bills” or bills with serrated edges that help them grip their prey. Common Mergansers are the largest of the three merganser species that inhabit North America.

The Common Merganser drake in the image above is missing its left foot but that doesn’t seem to prevent the merganser from fishing, thriving and surviving.

A first winter Common Merganser drakeA first winter Common Merganser drake – Nikon D300, f8, 1/800, ISO 500, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

The Common Merganser drake above is an immature male going through its first winter and by its second winter it would look like the adult at the top. At this age they can look very much like Red-breasted Mergansers but can be told apart by the thicker, heavier bill, the bill color, darker eyes, their more rounded head and shorter crest.

I hope to see them again soon.

Life is good.



  1. Elephant's Child November 3, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    ‘Common’ they may be. But not here. Incredibly beautiful and thank you.
    Our black swans also have saw bills. Which they use on people (like myself) who are remiss enough to think that they can find their own food…

  2. Patty Chadwick November 3, 2015 at 10:55 am

    Not only impissible, but also impossible…:-/

  3. Patty Chadwick November 3, 2015 at 10:54 am

    This is one handsome dude! Love that you were able to “freeze” him up close where we can see how beautiful he is…they usually keep their distance or fly so fast, it’s almost impissible to see what truly beautiful birds they are…

  4. Roger Burnard November 3, 2015 at 9:42 am

    Dang Mia… you must be “steady as a rock” to be able to handhold that much magnification
    at that, relatively slow shutter speed. Well done… ;-)))

  5. Mary Lou Hall November 3, 2015 at 7:32 am

    We see these mergansers traveling through in Michigan too. Absolutely love your pictures. I have a pic of two standing on a dead log in a stream but not nearly as clear as your photo. Being an aspiring bird photographer (non-professional) I enjoy your pics as I note all the details of your camera. Someday. I have a Nikon 50 – 300 lens. Happy photographing in Utah. We will winter in Arizona so am excited about seeing other birds that winter and live there.

  6. Bob Mcpherson November 3, 2015 at 7:23 am

    Beautiful photos, Mia. The Mergansers are interesting.

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