The Red Breasted Merganser Ducks of the Pacific Northwest
The Red Breasted Merganser Ducks of the BC coastal region
The red breasted merganser winters on Vancouver Island but breeds farther to the north. The adult male in breeding plumage has a reddish brown mottled breast, white neck collar, green head, red eyes and a serrated orange bill. The back is black and white, while the flanks are gray.
The female has a gray body, reddish brown head, and red eyes. She does not have a white chin patch like the female common merganser. The juvenile is similar to the female but has a white bar across its face. Males in non breeding plumage look just like the females.
They breed in the tundra and winter along the north pacific coast, they can be seen on all parts of Vancouver Island.
Red breasted mergansers are typically found in small flocks or single pairs, rather than large rafts. They feed by driving schools of fish into shallow water and then feeding on them.
The young feed mostly on aquatic insects, while the adults feed primarily on fish, crustaceans, and other aquatic creatures are also eaten.
Females reach breeding age at two years. Pairs generally form in late winter and during spring migration, although I have seen them pair up as early as the fall. They breed late and the young fledge in September. The nest is built on the ground, usually near water, it is a simple nest lined with vegetation and down. The female will lay up to 10 eggs. Like most ducks, the males usually leave when incubation begins. Incubation lasts up to 5 weeks.
The chicks follow the hen to water on the first day and actively begin to feed themselves. By 2 or 3 weeks the females will abandon the young even though they can not fly for another 6 weeks. They will fend for themselves during this time and when they begin to fly, they will start their southern migration. They usually migrate in pairs or small flocks. Spring migration begins in March with the birds reaching the breeding grounds by May.