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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Red-breasted Merganser -- Mergus serrator

RANGE: Breeds from northern Alaska to central Keewatin, northern Baffin Island, Labrador and Newfoundland south to the Aleutian Islands, northern British Columbia, central Minnesota, northern New York and Nova Scotia, casually south along the Atlantic Coast to Long Island. Winters primarily along coasts and on large inland bodies of water from southern Alaska, the Great Lakes and Nova Scotia south to Baja California, southern Texas, and the Gulf Coast.

STATUS: Common.

HABITAT: Prefers to breed on small islands or islets with low, prostrate woody vegetation or other natural features to cover the nest, and with open shores, gravel bars, or rocks to provide roosting and preening areas for drakes and young. Although it prefers inland waters, it may be found along the coasts on shores and on marine islets. Winters mainly in estuaries and sheltered bays, less frequently on inland freshwater.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Rivers, ponds, and lakes with some overhead cover nearby for nesting.

NEST: Nests on the ground under low cover, generally within 33 feet of water, preferably on islands, but also on riverbanks and lakeshores, in marshes, on rocky islets, or in bank recesses. Nests may be under low conifer boughs; under or between boulders in shallow cavities; in tall grass, heather, or bracken; or under driftwood.

FOOD: Feeds primarily on fish caught during dives underwater. Also eats fish eggs, frogs, annelids, nymphs, caddis flies, amphipods, crabs, prawns, and mollusks.

REFERENCES: Bellrose 1976, Clapp et al. 1982, Johnsgard 1975b, Palmer 1976b.

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