American Game Birds

Illustrating More Than One Hundred Species In Natural Colors

By Chester A. Reed

Page 7

MERGANSERS (Mergus americanus) are large ducks of unusual beauty of plumage, but otherwise of comparatively little interest to sportsmen, since their flesh is wholly unlit for the table. Their food consists very extensively of fish, a diet that gives a very strong and rank flavor to the flesh of any bird. That they are excellent divers and swimmers is amply proven by the fact that they pursue and catch fish under water. The bill of the Merganser is quite slender and cylindrical, the edges being provided with sharp saw-teeth to enable them to firmly hold their finny prey.

     This species, although often frequenting salt water, is very partial to fresh-water lakes, creeks and rivers. They remain in such places during winter, just as far north as the water remains open. They are known by many local names, among the most common of which may be mentioned "Goosander," "Saw-bill," "Buff-breasted Sheldrake," "Fishing Duck" and "Weazer." It is well to note some of the major differences between this species and the next. The male Merganser has a somewhat puffy head, but no distinct crest as does the following. The salmon-colored breast and under parts are unmarked. The females are more confusing, for both species have crests, but that of the present is heavier and browner. An infallible mark of distinction is the nostril, which in this species is just midway between the eye and tip of bill, while in the next it is located nearer the eye. The Merganser occurs throughout North America, breeding locally from the Northern States, northward. The eggs are laid in hollow trees or, in the far North, usually on the ground.


RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS (Mergus serrator) share most of the local names with the preceding species. They are, however, more commonly found on salt than on fresh water. They are cosmopolitan in distribution, nesting on the ground in Canada and spending the winter throughout the United States, but most abundantly on the coasts.