Common Merganser

Photo of a male common merganser floating on water.
Scientific Name
Mergus merganser
Anatidae (ducks, geese, swans) in the order Anseriformes

Common mergansers have a long, slender, serrated, red or orange bill with a wide base. Males have a green head, a mostly white body, and a black and gray back. Female has a gray body with a rusty head that is sharply defined against the white neck. Voice is a hoarse croaking car-r-r-r or rapid cackling notes. Mergansers are divers, and the legs are far back on the body; on land, the posture is upright.

Similar species both have larger crests: Red-breasted merganser males have gray sides, a dark chest and back, and a ragged crest; females have a pale rusty head with an indistinct border between rusty head and gray-white breast. Hooded merganser males have black and white head, crest, and back, with chestnut flanks; females are brown with rusty crest.

Length: 25 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).
Where To Find
Common Merganser Distribution Map
Common migrant and winter resident on rivers and lakes, foraging in deep water. This species is also native to Eurasia, where it is commonly called the “goosander.” Our North American common mergansers are a separate subspecies, Mergus merganser americanus.
Forages on rivers and lakes for fish, frogs, and aquatic invertebrates. Mergansers hunt their prey by sight and dive completely underwater to snag their prey. They are heavy bodied and small winged, designed for diving below the water and pursuing fish by swimming with their powerful webbed feet. The serrated bill helps them grab slippery fish.
Common transient and winter resident (uncommon in southeast); accidental summer visitor.
Life Cycle
The breeding territory of common mergansers lies mainly in Canada. They usually nest in cavities in dead trees, sometimes using abandoned woodpecker nests, and also use specially made nest boxes. Clutches contain 6-17 eggs. The young jump from the nest hole within a few days of hatching and are able to forage for their own food — with their mother’s protection.
In some places where it occurs, humans persecute the common merganser as a competitor for game fish. Duck hunters rarely harvest this bird, since its meat has been described as “so rank and strong” the flavor is “not much superior to that of an old kerosene lamp-wick.”
The common merganser, being a species of forest and water habitats, relies on the health of both. Successful nesting requires mature forests complete with dead cavity trees, and successful foraging requires waters that are not overburdened by sediment.
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Similar Species
About Birds in Missouri

About 350 species of birds are likely to be seen in Missouri, though nearly 400 have been recorded within our borders. Most people know a bird when they see one — it has feathers, wings, and a bill. Birds are warm-blooded, and most species can fly. Many migrate hundreds or thousands of miles. Birds lay hard-shelled eggs (often in a nest), and the parents care for the young. Many communicate with songs and calls.