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North Carolina Wildlife Species Information

Common Merganser - Mergus merganser

Common Merganser Mergus merganser

Identification Tips:

  • Length: 18 inches Wingspan: 37 inches
  • Large, sleek diving duck
  • Long, pointed bill with serrated edges
  • Red bill is thick at base, tapering towards tip
  • Sleek, tapered crest, more obvious on females than on males
  • Brown eye
  • White secondaries
  • Immature similar to adult female, often with a less-distinct chin patch

Adult male:

  • Greenish-black head and upper neck
  • White breast, flanks and belly
  • Black back and upperwing coverts with white scapulars
  • White secondary coverts crossed with indistinct dark bar
  • Alternate plumage worn from fall through early summer
  • Male in basic eclipse plumage similar to adult female

Adult female:

  • Red-brown head meets pale breast in crisp line of division
  • Well-defined white chin
  • White breast and belly
  • Pale gray body plumage

Similar species:

Adult male in alternate plumage is somewhat similar to male Red-breasted Merganser but has white breast and flanks, and a less obvious crest. Female, immature and eclipse male distinguished from similarly-plumaged Red-breasted Mergansers by sharply-defined chin, reddish head contrasting with white breast, paler gray plumage, sleeker crest and larger bill. In winter, Common Mergansers, unlike Red-breasted Mergansers, are generally found in freshwater habitats.

Length and wingspan from: Robbins, C.S., Bruun, B., Zim, H.S., (1966). Birds of North America. New York: Western Publishing Company, Inc.

Above information used courtesy of United States Geological Survey.

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