October Bird Group meeting
Bird Study Group Report
The group gathered at the Denzel’s home on the second Wednesday of October for the first meeting of the year. The topic for the night was the pair of Common Merganser and Red-breasted Merganser, both birds which can be seen in the area, and after enjoying refreshments we got down to work on the birds. Brief summaries are given below.
The Red-breasted Merganser(Mergus serrator) is a common northern, primarily arctic breeder around the globe (but also including the Great Lakes). It spends the winters primarily along the sea coasts (favouring harbours, rocky coastlines, etc.), but also on the Great Lakes and other large inland lakes. It nests along fish-bearing waters. Nests near water on the ground, sheltering under dense growth or debris. Frequently nests on islands with gulls and terns.There are usually 7-10 eggs of olive buff colour. Females may lay eggs in each others nests, sometimes in other ducks’ nests. Incubation period 29-35 days, by female only. Female will lead brood to water within a couple of days of hatching. The young will learn to fly in about 2 months. Birds forage for fish by diving, although in shallow water they may dip their heads like Shovelers. They will forage in small groups, but usually not in large flocks. In the Winter we may seem them locally in association with Common Mergansers.
Males are unmistakable with dark breast, bright red eyes, and “dread-locks” which show up except sometimes when just surfacing. The Mergansers all share the distinctive long thin bill, for this bird orange combined with a high forehead. Females are less distinctive, but are somewhat paler than the Common female, and particularly have no distinctive demarcation between the reddish-brown head and the greyish neck.
The Common Merganser (Mergus merganser) (the second of our three Mergansers in North America), has a more widespread distribution, breeding in the North and the West, but generally not as far North as for the Red-breasted M. It is also found around the northern portion of the globe. It winters generally in large homogeneous flocks on larger ice-free fresh-water bodies, or in low-salinity tidal creeks and basins. They will move from a freeze-up, but then return as the ice melts. Basically, if you see a Merganser on salt water, it is most likely a Red-breasted.They are generally scarce in the northern prairies. Females nest near water, usually in large tree cavities, or in holes under tree roots. they will use nest boxes. Generally she lays 8-11 pale buff eggs, incubating them for 30-35 days. They will fly in 60-70 days.
The male is large, wide-bodied, heavyset, with a bright orange saw-bill, wide at the base and sharply tapered from a sloping forehead. Their bright green heads, bright black and white bodies, are unmistakable. The eyes are not really visible. They are larger than any other duck except for the Common Eider, and are sometimes confused with the Common Loon (in spite of the orange bill). The female is similar in overall appearance to the Common Merganser (recall the neck differences).
Both of these species are generally silent, aside from some flight calls by females.