Red-breasted Merganser

December 21st, 2018: Visiting some family and wandering around suburbia

Not much in the way of exciting birding this week. It’s pretty cold here in the suburbs north of Chicago.

A female Red-breasted Merganser among floating ice
A female Red-breasted Merganser among floating ice

Of course, there’s the usual winter activity. In my walks around the neighbourhood, I was seeing Red-bellied Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, European Starling, American Robin, House Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Dark-eyed Junco, and Northern Cardinal pretty much every day.

An angry looking female Northern Cardinal fluffs up to insulate from the cold
An angry looking female Northern Cardinal fluffs up to insulate from the cold

At the east side there’s always Lake Michigan. But this time of year, the wind is awfully cold coming off the lake. Also, there is usually a lot of wind, so lake-watching tends not to be very fruitful.

A White-breasted Nuthatch looking inquisitive
A White-breasted Nuthatch looking inquisitive

When there are birds out there, it’s usually scaup or Red-breasted Merganser. Today it was the latter and I was happy to see them in close. A flock of 25 or so in a loose raft, diving for their fish, crustaceans (and sometimes frogs and insects). I think it’s pretty cool that they were one of the species described by Linneaus in Systema Naturae in 1758. Their Latin name is Mergus serrator because of their “sawbill.”

A small raft of Red-breasted Merganser complete with crazy hair
A small raft of Red-breasted Merganser complete with crazy hair

Also, they look ridiculous. Beautiful, but ridiculous. Can we agree on that? Their “hair” is always a mess and they seem to have this stunned look about them as they gracefully dive for their prey and glide across the surface. Pictures of impossibly unkempt poise.

They’re birds we see a lot in North America, but they’re also easy to appreciate. And a nice highlight for this week.

A male Red-breasted Merganser takes flight from the water
A male Red-breasted Merganser takes flight from the water

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