Common Mergansers: A Splash of Color

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

What type of creature created this series of splashes on the surface of the Red Clay Creek? Image by Derek Stoner, March 2, 2012.

Not only have Wood Ducks provided an interesting show along the Red Clay Creek recently, but there is also another display being made by waterfowl visiting the Red Clay Valley.

Male and female Common Mergansers are paired up and fishing together, fattening up on fish to fuel their migration north to the Boreal Forest.  These large ducks will soon return to nest in the North Woods, where the females select nest cavities in hollow trees in the same fashion as Wood Ducks. 
After a recent encounter where my camera was ready and the road behind me was quiet,  the photo above shows the result: the series of splashes these birds left on the water’s surface as they flew away.
A pair of Common Mergansers (female left, male right) makes a running take-off from the Red Clay Creek. Image by Derek Stoner, March 2, 2012.

Because mergansers spend so much time in pursuit of finned prey, they have feet that are mounted closer to their tail than the average duck,  in order to maximize propulsion while  underwater.   Like feathered skin divers, these birds chase after native fish like Black-nosed Dace, Creek Chubs, and Satinfin Shiners in the Red Clay Creek.  When mergansers decide to fly, they take a “running start” across the water and use their narrow wings to help them to slowly launch from the water. 

Keep an eye out on local waterways these next couple weeks for the colorful Common Merganser: a unique tree-nesting, fish-eating duck of the Far North!

3 thoughts on “Common Mergansers: A Splash of Color”

  1. Mary Ann Levan

    Wow! fabulous splashy picture! I saw 6 males a few days ago on the Red Clay just above the Sharpless dam.

  2. Great to hear the reports of Common Mergansers still being seen on the Red Clay Creek. The area upstream of the Sharpless Road Dam is often a great area to look for them, as Mary Ann’s report attests. – Derek

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