Red-breasted MerganserMergus serrator

adult male, breeding
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult female
Rob Curtis/VIREO
adult male, breeding
Marvin R. Hyett, M.D./VIREO
adult male, breeding
Arthur Morris/VIREO
Red-breasted Merganser


19-26" (48-66 cm). Male has green head with wispy crest, gray sides, white neck ring, and rusty breast. Female grayish, with reddish-brown head shading gradually into gray of neck. Both sexes are crested and have red bills.


Usually silent; various croaking and grunting notes during courtship.


female flight
female quacks and male calls
soft croaks
male coursthip calls


Breeds on wooded lakes and tundra ponds; winters mainly on salt water.


Breeds in Alaska and across northern Canada to Newfoundland and south to Great Lakes. Winters chiefly along coasts from Alaska south to California, from Maritime Provinces south to Florida, and along Gulf Coast. Also in Eurasia.


The Red-breasted Merganser breeds farther north than its relatives and is also the most common winter merganser on salt water, especially where rocky coves provide good fishing. Like the other two species, it lives mainly on fish, which it captures in swift underwater dives, aided by its long pointed bill lined with sharp, tooth-like projections. Often found searching for food alone, these birds also gather in large flocks where fish are abundant.


8-10 olive-buff eggs in a down-lined depression concealed under a bush or in a brush pile.

Similar Species

adult male, breeding

Hooded Merganser

16-19" (41-48 cm). A small duck with a slender pointed bill. Male has white, fan-shaped, black-bordered crest, blackish body with dull rusty flanks, and white breast with 2 black stripes down side.

adult male, breeding

Common Merganser

22-27" (56-69 cm). Male has flashing white sides, green head, white breast, and long, thin red bill. Female has gray body and sides; reddish-brown crested head sharply set off from white throat.


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