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North Carolina Wildlife Species Information

Red-breasted Merganser - Mergus serrator

Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator

Identification Tips:

  • Length: 16 inches Wingspan: 33 inches
  • Large, sleek diving duck
  • Long, pointed bill with serrated edges
  • Thin, red bill seems evenly tapered throughout length
  • Shaggy crest obvious in both sexes
  • Red eye
  • White secondaries
  • Immature similar to adult female

Adult male:

  • Greenish-black head
  • White neck
  • Reddish breast with dark streaks, bordered on sides by black-and-white patch
  • Gray flanks, tail, rump and uppertail coverts
  • Black back
  • White belly
  • White secondary coverts
  • Alternate plumage worn from fall through early summer
  • Male in basic eclipse plumage like adult female

Adult female:

  • Red-brown head, paler on throat, but without well-defined chin
  • Red-brown head fades evenly to paler breast
  • Gray and white breast and belly
  • Gray-brown body plumage

Similar species:

Adult male in alternate plumage is similar to male Common Merganser but has reddish breast and gray flanks. Female, immature and eclipse male distinguished from similarly-plumaged Common Mergansers by lack of sharply-defined chin and lack of sharp contrast between reddish head and white breast, and by darker gray plumage, spikier crest, and slimmer bill. In winter, Red-breasted Mergansers are more likely to be found in saltwater habitats than are Common Mergansers.

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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