Common Merganser (Mergus merganser) is the largest merganser species, averaging only slightly smaller than the largest North American duck, the Common Eider. This species display a long, thin, serrated red bill with matching irises and legs. Common mergansers have an elegant-looking narrow head with a long neck that is normally pulled against the body in a snakey looking “S” shape. Common merganser drakes display black head lacking long crest that iridesce with green; cream-colored neck, underbelly, and vermiculated gray tail. Hens have a chestnut head with a white throat patch that abruptly changes to the silvery plumage of the rest of the body. Females also display a small crest that does not reach the front of their head.
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While there are not many studies concerning common merganser breeding and non-breeding habitat and behaviors, it is known that Common Mergansers are residents in the Northern Pacific and Atlantic United States, but also have migrating populations. Migrating breeding population lives in Southern Alaska, most of Canada, and Wisconsin. Common mergansers frequently nest in cavities that are manmade and natural and have been found in chimneys, rock crevices, and sheds. Natural crevices are found at most 100 feet above ground in live or dead trees. Wintering common mergansers are found in northern Mexico and throughout the United States uncommonly the southeastern states. Prefering freshwater over saltwater habitats, common mergansers are well-suited for either.
Because of their serrated and hooked bill give common merganser a major advantage of holding on to slippery prey. Their winter diet is dominated predominately fish, else they will supplement their diet with aquatic invertebrates, amphibians, birds, and small mammals in clear, shallow water. Nestlings eat insects for their first few days of life before being able to successfully catch faster aquatic prey.