A Red-Breasted Merganser is a fun bird to see while bird watching. Below are some tips to help you identify Red-Breasted Mergansers. We have also put together a list of fun Red-Breasted Merganser t-shirts, Red-Breasted Merganser bird patches, birdhouses, bird feeders, binoculars, stickers, and other fun bird-watching items.
About Red-Breasted Mergansers
These slim, fish-eating ducks are a common sight in prairies and jetties along coastal beaches. These diving ducks are also known as sawbill because of their bill that has tiny serrations used for catching fish. Red-breasted Mergansers bread farther north than other mergansers and also winter farther south. They feed on about 20 fish per day, this explains why they dive numerous times a day. Some of their distinctive features include:
Description and Identification
Red-breasted Mergansers are large ducks that are around 20.1 – 25.2 inches in length with
a wingspan of 26 – 29 inches. They are long-bodied with relatively long necks and a long,
thin, serrated bill. They have a shaggy crest of feathers that characterize their appearances.
Breeding males have a cinnamon-colored chest with a white neckband and a shaggy
green head. Females and non-breeding males look similar with both being brownish-gray
overall with brown chins, a dingy breast, and a shaggy brown head. Both sexes show a
prominent white lower wing panel when in flight.
Red-Breasted Merganser Color Pattern
These medium-sized ducks have black upperparts with gray sides and rust-brown berries. They have white underparts and green heads. Their white lower wing panel is visible during flight. The breeding males have cinnamon chests.
Red-Breasted Merganser Size
They are large but slim long-legged diving ducks. They have long necks and long, thin serrated bills that catch slippery fish. Although larger than a ruddy duck, they are dwarfed by a common loon.
The relative size for both sexes
- Length range: 20.1 – 25.2 in (51 – 64 cm)
- Weight: 28.2 – 47.6 oz (800 – 1350 g)
- Wingspan range: 26.0 – 29.1 in (66 – 74 cm)
Red-Breasted Merganser Behavior
Red-Breasted Mergansers swim with their heads partially submerged in water and dive to catch fish with their bill. When flying, their head is at an angle higher than their feet. Sometimes, they hunt in well-organized groups pushing a school of fish towards shallow waters.
Red-Breasted Merganser Food
Small fish are the main dietary components of these ducks. They mainly eat fish that are 4 –
6 inches long, but also consume crustaceans, insects, and tadpoles if required. They can be
found foraging in shallow waters that have submerged vegetation and abundant aquatic life
during the summers, sometimes diving underwater in order to catch prey. They may also
herd minnows in order to gather and trap them for easy capture; the serrations present on
the bills of these fish allow for ease in grasping the slippery fish. During the winter seasons,
they are found foraging in shallow marine waters.
Their main diet is fish. They feed heavily on small fish and other aquatic animals such as aquatic insects and crustaceans. They sometimes feed on frogs and tadpoles.
Red-Breasted Merganser Habitat
These birds can be found breeding in fresh, brackish, and saltwater wetlands in and around
the boreal forest; they tend to remain near the coasts during the summers. Winter migrations
take them towards oceans, lakes, estuaries, bays, and rivers. These ducks have been noted
to use saltwater habitats far more than the closely related Common Mergansers.
They breed in the boreal forest on saltwater, fresh and brackish wetlands near the coast. During migration and wintering they frequent lakes, rivers, bays, estuaries, and oceans.
Range and Migration
Red-breasted Mergansers are vibrantly colored diving ducks that are also known as
“sawbills”, a name that derives itself from their thin bills. They have an extensive breeding
range across the wetlands of the boreal forests in Eurasia and North America. Their North
American range breeds from Alaska to northern, central, and south-eastern Canada, and
portions of coastal Greenland. They are medium-distance migrants that travel in enormous
flocks towards the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of south-western Canada and all of the United
States. They can also be found around some inland lakes in southern Canada and western
The United States.
Red-Breasted Merganser Lifecycle
The females usually lay 7-10 eggs in their nest or in other duck’s nests. Incubation is mainly carried out by the females for 29-35 days. The females then guide the young ones to the water where they feed. They fledge after 2 months. Their average lifespan is 9 years.
Red-Breasted Merganser Nesting
Red-breasted Mergansers can be found nesting along with forests riverbanks, marsh edges,
lakeshores, coastal islands, and sandy shores with vegetation. They tend to remain close to the water and situate their nests in close proximity to it. Nest sites are selected by the females
on the ground under a dense cover of vegetation from trees, or of fallen logs and boulders to
ensure maximum protection. They typically nest alone or in colonies that may have other
bird species like gulls and terns. The nest is constructed by the females as well; a
depression is created on the ground and then covered with dead grasses in order to form a
shallow bowl. As egg-laying begins, further linings of vegetation and the female’s down
feathers are added in order to provide insulation to the nest. The clutch size can range
anywhere from 3 – 24 eggs, with an incubation period that lasts at least a month.
Bird Watching Academy & Camp Subscription Boxes
At Bird Watching Academy & Camp we help kids, youth, and adults get excited and involved in bird watching. We have several monthly subscription boxes that you can subscribe to. Our monthly subscription boxes help kids, youth, and adults learn about birds, bird watching, and bird conservation.
Bird Watching Binoculars for Identifying Red-Breasted Mergansers
The most common types of bird-watching binoculars for viewing Red-Breasted Mergansers are 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. Bird Watching Academy & Camp sells really nice 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. You can view and purchase them here.
Red-Breasted Merganser T-shirts
If you love the Red-Breasted Merganser you should purchase a Bird Watching Academy & Camp T-shirt. To help support bird conservation we donate 10 percent to bird conservation activities.
Red-Breasted Merganser Iron On Patches
Kids, Youth, and Adults love to collect our Bird Watching Academy & Camp iron-on patches. Our bird-watching patches help you keep track of the birds you have seen and identified. You can also display the patches on our Bird Watching Academy & Camp banners.
The Red-Breasted Merganser is a great iron-on patch to start your collection with. The patches are durable and can be sewn on or ironed on to just about anything.
Red-Breasted Merganser Stickers
Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the Red-Breasted Merganser. We sell a monthly subscription sticker pack. The sticker packs have 12 bird stickers. These sticker packs will help your kids learn new birds every month.
Bird Feeders for Red-Breasted Mergansers
There are many types of bird feeders. Here are our favorite bird feeders for your backyard. We use all of these bird feeders currently. Kids will have a great time watching birds eat at these bird feeders. Using this collection of bird feeders will provide a wide variety and many types of birds.
Best Bird Houses for Red-Breasted Mergansers
There are many types of birdhouses. Building a birdhouse is always fun but can be frustrating. These 4 birdhouses have become our favorites. Getting a birdhouse for kids to watch birds grow is always fun. We spent a little extra money on these birdhouses but they have been worth the higher price and look great.