Common Merganser   Mergus merganser

These large fish-eating birds winter in large flocks throughout Puget Sound.  Flocks containing 20 to 40 individuals move along the shoreline searching for small fish such as sculpins.  They frequently peer below the surface to spot prey.  When a potential victim is found, one or more birds will quickly dive and a chase ensues.  Using their webbed feet they are fast swimmers and often win the race.

Like many fish-eating birds their bills are uniquely adapted to grab and hold onto slippery prey.  The tip of the long, thin bill is hooked to snag fish, while the margins of the bill are serrated to hold the fish preventing it from wiggling away.  The fish is always swallowed head-first to prevent the fish spines from sticking in the throat.

Late summer and fall plumage for males and females is very similar, but in the winter the male develops a beautiful green head and white neck and sides.  The lone male in the photograph standing on the beach (it has a white patch on it's side) has yet to change into its winter plumage.

The Common Merganser ranges throughout North America.  While they may occur in saltwater in the winter, they breed in freshwater areas.  Flying up rivers and streams, the females nest in a variety of situations ranging from trees to earthen banks, under boulders, under shrubs and even in abandoned nests.  Eggs hatch in 28 to 35 days, but the young only stay in the nest for two days.  They leave the nest to follow the mother hunting for food in streams, lakes and rivers.