Bird's Eye View of Bute

Red Breasted Merganser

(1) Red Breasted Merganser
(1) Red Breasted Merganser
(2) Female Left
(2) Female Left
(3)
(3)

 

 

 

Red Breasted Merganser.

This week it's the turn of the Red Breasted Merganser to grace the pages of the Buteman. This is a diving duck that is most commonly associated with Scotland and Ireland, but has now started to breed in England and Wales.

In the winter time our flocks are boosted with migrants from Iceland, whereas, the ones in England and Wales come from Scandinavia. They all com

e under the name of Sawbills, as the cutting edge of their bill looks like a saw. This enables them to catch and hold on to the fish that they catch for food. Once again the Drake is the more colourful, having a black head with a white neckband, a black back with greyish sides. Easily identified with a red bill and a wispy crest. The female has a reddish head with no white collar.
These birds can be seen as pairs most of the time, but flocks of thirty or more can be seen in sheltered bays, like The Straad or Scalpsie or Ettrick bays. There is also a pair that you can see in the inner harbour most days. When they are not scattered around our coasts, they will meet in sheltered areas with as much as 40 attending the gathering with the occasional long tailed duck joining in for blether and a feed.
These birds can have as many as ten eggs to care for. Quite a lot, but as usual the mortality rate is high. This may be that as they dive for food it leaves their chicks on the surface to fend for themselves for the duration of the dive; this can be longer than a minute, which is a long time for the chicks to be without the protection of their mum. One year, at Kerrycroy there was a family of eight chicks with their mum. As she dived the chicks formed a tight circle until she surfaced, which can be fifty metres away. Then they literally ran across the water with their featherless wings going like the clappers, until they reached her. This was repeated all day long to feed her offspring and herself, no easy task. They are not very shy birds, so you will be able to get close to identify them. The one in my photo is of a male. There is another of the same family, the Goosander, in which the female looks very like a merganser, but, as it stays on fresh water all the time, the ones that you see on salt water are sure to be merganser. Another way of identification is the display, when they are looking for a mate. It is almost like a curtsey, with the male raising its chest out of the water then plunging it and its neck under with just the head showing. This happens even during the winter, but more so in the spring. Quite comical to observe, especially if there is two or more males chasing a female, then the fun begins. All day long with hardly a break for food they try to charm the female away from the competition with their curtsying and following her very closely hoping that she will chose him as a partner.


Norrie Mulholland


First Published in the Buteman 27-03-2009

 


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