Smew Identification

The Smew

A Smew is a fun bird to see while bird watching. Below are some tips to help you identify Smews. We have also put together a list of fun Smew t-shirts, Smew bird patches, birdhouses, bird feeders, binoculars, stickers, and other fun bird-watching items.

About Smews

These small mergansers are common in northern Europe and Asia. Very few migrate and most winter in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. They are rare birds outside Alaska and a few winter along the Pacific Coast south. They are also called white nuns and are thought to be the linking factor between the larger mergansers and goldeneyes. Some of their distinctive features include:

Description and Identification

Male Smews generally appear to have a black-and-white plumage color while they are observed
in flight. These ducks are 15-17 inches long, with a wingspan of 22-27 inches. They weigh between
1-1.3 pounds. Smews have small bills, small crests, steep foreheads, and particularly upright
necks. These ducks are very fast and they generally travel in V-shaped flocks. The breeding plumage
of males is mainly predominantly white with a black mask on the face, and some black feathers on
the nape. Their tails and rears are gray-black and their bills, legs, and feet are mainly gray. Smews
also have very distinct reddish eyes. In contrast to the males, female Smews have a predominantly
gray plumage with brown crowns and foreheads. If observed from distance females and juveniles
can easily be confused with ruddy ducks. The oval white wing-patches of the females can be
spotted when they are in flight. Like other mergansers, Smews have specialized bills with serrated
edges and hooked tips to make procuring food easier for them.

Smew Color Pattern

They have an entirely white body except for the black mask, back, breast bar, and the V-shaped nape patch. Their wings are dark with white patches. Their legs and feet are gray and have brown to red eyes.

Smew Size

The females and the immature have chestnut foreheads. All have a bill with serrated edges and hooked tip.

The relative size for both sexes

  • Length range: 14.5-17 in (37-43 cm)
  • Weight: 22.4 oz (635 g)
  • Wingspan range: 24-26 in (61-66 cm)

Smew Behavior

They forage by diving from the surface and also swimming underwater when pursuing prey. They are vocal birds and give a sharp “krrr” note. They forage in groups periodically submerging their heads underwater and then without a splash, the entire flock vanishes beneath the water. The surface quickly to devours the prey.

Smew Food

Smews consume a varied diet that consists of insects, larvae, aquatic invertebrates, plant
materials, fish, and amphibians. Fish that are hunted by these ducks include northern pikes,
minnows, burbots, eels, common carps, bleaks, loaches, roaches, trouts, salmons, smelts, plaices,
and Atlantic herrings. Dragonflies, caddisflies, and water beetles are some of the insects consumed
by Smews. Fish make up 70% of the diet of these ducks. Before diving into the water, Smews scans
for prey by immersing their head into the water.

They use their serrated bills to catch fish when they dive mostly in the winter. They feed on other aquatic plants and creatures such as crabs. They also feed on plant material and seeds.

Smew Habitat

During breeding season Smews generally inhabit pools, freshwater lakes, muskegs, and rivers in
the Taiga zone. These ducks prefer lakes that have an abundance of fish. In winters, Smews
commonly inhabit ice-free rivers, large lakes, estuaries, and brackish coastal lagoons. These ducks
usually avoid open seas and water bodies deeper than 20 feet. While migrating these ducks might
pass through streams and small water bodies.

They are common on Pribilofs and rare in western Aleutians. Sometimes they can be found in the United States in areas such as California, Washington, and Oregon. Other places where you can accidentally find them are along the Great Lake region, Mississippi River and Massachusetts. They prefer bays, rivers, and lakes.

Range and Migration

Smews are small mergansers that breed in Europe and the Palearctic region. The breeding range
of these birds extends from Eastern Scandinavia and the Arctic Circle to Kamchatka in Eastern
Siberia. The winter range of these birds extends east from Central Europe towards the Caspian
and Black seas, Eastern China, Japan, and Korea. These birds commonly winter in the North and
Baltic seas. These migratory ducks begin winter migration in September and reach their
destination by October. Wintering areas that are especially populated with Smews are in Central
and northwest Europe and Western Eurasia.

Smew Lifecycle

The females lay 6-9 eggs which are incubated by the female for 26 days. The female feeds the young ones with insect larvae for about 4 weeks.

Smew Nesting

Smews are seasonally monogamous ducks that breed between mid-May and mid-June. These
ducks form pairs in late winter on their wintering grounds, or during migration. Smews generally
nest in loose flocks or in individual pairs. Smews construct nests in tree hollows that are over 30
feet above the ground, or in nest-boxes. These nests are lined with only feathers and down.
Female Smews lay about 7-9 eggs which need to be incubated for a period of 26-28 days. Males
protect females before incubation begins, but abandons them while they are incubating.


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 Smews

The most common types of bird-watching binoculars for viewing Smews 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.

Smew T-shirts

If you love the Smew you should purchase a Bird Watching Academy & Camp T-shirt. To help support bird conservation we donate 10 percent to bird conservation activities.

Smew 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 Smew 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.

Smew Stickers

Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the Smew. 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 Smews

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 Smews

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.

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