Welcome, winter visitors.
I saw a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers late this afternoon just off the West Causeway park under the Sewall’s Point-to-Hutchinson-Island bridge.
Red-breasted Mergansers breed in the boreal forest on fresh, brackish, and saltwater wetlands, typically close to the coast. During migration and on the wintering grounds, they use oceans, lakes, and rivers. They tend to use saltwater, including estuaries and bays, more often than Common Merganser.
Red-breasted Mergansers primarily eat small fish (4–6 inches long), but also crustaceans, insects, and tadpoles on occasion. In the summer, they forage in shallow waters with submerged vegetation and plentiful fish. In the winter they forage in shallow marine waters. Red-breasted Mergansers dive underwater or swim with their eyes just below the surface as if they were snorkeling to look for prey. Lines of mergansers also herd minnows into restricted areas, allowing easy capture. The serrations on the bill help them keep hold of slippery fish.
Some diving-duck “snowbirds” were swimming just off the west causeway park under the Ernest Lyons Bridge, Sewall’s Point this morning.
There were eight of these Red-breasted Mergansers. Here is a rare moment when all of them were on top of the water, not diving.
Fun fact from Cornell Lab of Ornithology…
Red-breasted Mergansers need to eat 15 to 20 fish per day, which researchers suggest means they need to dive underwater 250–300 times per day or forage for 4–5 hours to meet their energy needs.
The Red-breasted Merganser is a shaggy-headed diving duck also known as the “sawbill”; named for its thin bill with tiny serrations on it that it uses to keep hold of slippery fish.
Range Map from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
The winter months are the best time to go looking for a Red-breasted Merganser, when they are fairly common along coastal waters in the United States and Mexico. Look for them in sheltered estuaries and bays swimming along in small groups or by themselves. Red-breasted Mergansers forage near the shore, so a spotting scope may not be needed to get good looks.
Snowy Egret too, brightening this windy rainy gray day.
Osprey on a light pole, Ernest Lyons Bridge.
Daughter Laura and I walked across the bridge and back around noon today, about 2 and a half miles altogether.
Nice views of the Indian River Lagoon from the bridge.
And soaring ospreys.
And a dolphin.
Ring-billed gull loafing on a light pole.
Laura spotted a diving duck and I zoomed in.
Looks like a female Red-breasted Merganser.
A large diving duck with a long thin bill, the Red-breasted Merganser is found in large lakes, rivers and the ocean. It prefers salt water more than the other two species of merganser.
The Red-breasted Merganser breeds farther north and winters farther south than the other American mergansers.
Good eyes, Laura!
A Thick-billed Murre at Hampton Harbor today.
Luckily a real birder who was watching birds a short distance away from me posted her checklist from the same time and location to eBird.org and that helped me figure out what kind of (unfamiliar, locally rare) bird it was.
The murre was near a female Common Eider duck.
There were Common Loons too.
And those sharp little Red-breasted Mergansers.
Murres are alcids, in the same family as puffins and auks. They look more auk-like when they are out of the water: photo.
A common bird of the far northern oceans, the Thick-billed Murre is found in Arctic waters all across the globe. It remains up to the limits of pack ice in winter, using its wings to swim underwater to find its fish and invertebrate prey.
The temperatures here are supposed to plummet to near-Arctic ranges in the next few days, so our visiting murre will feel right at home.
Cool Facts: The Thick-billed Murre is one of the deepest underwater divers of all birds, regularly descending to depths of more than 100 m, and occasionally below 200 m. It can remain submerged for more than three minutes.