A first winter male Common Merganser

1st winter Common Merganser male at Farmington Bay WMA1st winter Common Merganser male at Farmington Bay WMA – Nikon D300, f8, 1/1250, ISO 640, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Yesterday morning I spotted a lone Common Merganser at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area nearly hidden in some phragmites and when we came around the corner the bird seemed to have disappeared but after a bit it came out from its hiding spot and gave us quite a show. When I first saw the bird my mind registered “female” because of the coloration and that adult males at this time of the year are in breeding plumage which is quite different from females.

Common Merganser being aggressive towards a Pied-billed GrebeCommon Merganser being aggressive towards a Pied-billed Grebe - Nikon D300, f8, 1/1250, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

There were more than twenty Pied-billed Grebes plus one Common Coot on the pond and the Common Merganser didn’t take to kindly when a Pied-billed would get to close to it. Several times I watched it behave aggressively towards the grebes and open its saw-toothed bill in a threatening manner.

Common Merganser getting out of the waterCommon Merganser getting out of the water - Nikon D300, f8, 1/1000, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

After a little while the Common merganser got out of the water near a Pied-billed Grebe that was resting on a sheet of ice along the shore of the pond. It was about this time that I noticed the clean white belly, the white speculum and how the throat was so white. With a female Common Merganser there would be gray on the throat.

The Pied-billed Grebe looked anxious as the merganser climbed onto the ice.

Common Merganser biting a Pied-billed GrebeCommon Merganser biting a Pied-billed Grebe - Nikon D300, f8, 1/640, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

As soon as the Common Merganser had its feet fully on the ice it turned towards the grebe and bit its head several times. At one point its bill covered the whole head of the grebe. I wish it had been turned more towards me so I could have gotten better eye contact. The grebe stayed right where it was and I suppose the merganser realized the grebe wasn’t a threat because the merganser soon plopped down and rested on the ice for a bit.

Common Merganser stretching on the shorelineCommon Merganser stretching on the shoreline - Nikon D300, f8, 1/800, ISO 500, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

It wasn’t long though before the Common Merganser stood back up, stretched and entered the water again. I was hoping it might start looking for fish.

First Winter Common Merganser maleFirst Winter Common Merganser male - Nikon D300, f8, 1/800, ISO 500, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

But it fluffed, preened and shook itself off several times. The merganser’s crest seemed fairly long and shaggy for a Common Merganser and the eye a little bit too light. But I was focusing on photographing the bird not trying to identify the gender of it at this point.

A preening Common Merganser in a funny poseA preening Common Merganser in a funny pose - Nikon D300, f8, 1/1600, ISO 500, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

As long as the Pied-billed Grebes stayed away from the merganser it seemed intent on preening. While I wish the grebes weren’t in this frame I feel they do give a sense of how large and long the merganser is compared to them and I even captured one of the grebes stretching.

First winter male Common MerganserFirst winter male Common Merganser - Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/2000, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

The Common Merganser gave us several opportunities to photograph it as it flapped its wings on the icy pond…

Wing-flapping Common MerganserWing-flapping Common Merganser - Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 500, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 350mm, natural light

And when it climbed back onto the sheet of ice.

While reviewing my images on my screen at home I came to the conclusion that this is a first winter male Common Merganser. By next winter he will look very different when he gets his adult breeding plumage.

A comparison between Red-breasted and Common mergansers can be found here. All mergansers are diving ducks and they all have serrated bills.

Mia

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