Tag Archives: Bird Watching

The Red-Breasted Merganser Hamilton

The Red-Breasted Merganser Hamilton

Mersenger ducks

(Mergus serrator)

Wednesday November 16 2010

The red-breasted merganser is a medium-sized “saw-bill” sea duck. An adult weighs 800–1,350 grams (1.7–3.0 lbs) and is 51–64 cm (20.0–25.1 in.) long. Males are larger than females. Both sexes have a long narrow red bill with a black tip, red-orange feet, and black wings with white patches across the inner wing. Their serrated bill is highly specialized for grasping small fish securely

DescriptionThe red-breasted merganser is a medium-sized “saw-bill” sea duck. An adult weighs 800–1,350 grams (1.7–3.0 lbs) and is 51–64 cm (20.0–25.1 in.) long. Males are larger than females. Both sexes have a long narrow red bill with a black tip, red-orange feet, and black wings with white patches across the inner wing. Their serrated bill is highly specialized for grasping small fish securely

Diving ducks

Adult males have a head that is dark metallic green in the face with black elsewhere. Elongated feathers at the rear of the head form a long, shaggy, and double-pointed crest. Males have a white neck ring with varied body colors that include speckled brown chest, and gray sides and flanks. In late summer during molt, males resemble breeding females, except white on inner forewing is more extensive in male.

Adult females are largely gray-brown with white on chin, throat, breast, and belly; they retain this plumage year-round.

Horned Greb Duck


Red-breasted mergansers occur in arctic and subarctic regions throughout the northern hemisphere. In North America, they breed across the continent from the Aleutian Islands and Alaska, east across the Canadian arctic to the Atlantic provinces, Great Lakes region, and northeastern states.Below a Mallard duck that Winters in Hamilton.

Mallard duck

Red-breasted mergansers winter along the entire coastline of North America, in the Pacific from the Aleutian Islands of Alaska to Baja California and in the Atlantic from Nova Scotia to northern Mexico. They are found mostly on coastal bays, large calm, open-water areas, estuaries, and harbors. They also winter on large interior lakes, such as the Great Lakes and the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

Red-breasted mergansers are more frequently found in salt water than common mergansers, which winter more on fresh water. The large distance between arctic breeding areas and wintering areas as far south as coastal Mexico suggests a strong migratory tendency and dispersal ability. However, nothing is known about migration patterns or connectivity between nesting and wintering grounds.

Migrating duck

Habitat and Habits

Red-breasted mergansers are thought to establish pair bonds in winter. They are late spring migrants, flying in pairs or flocks of 5–15 individuals along major rivers, lake chains, and coastlines during day and overland by night. They also breed later than most ducks, beginning nesting in mid-June in Alaska, and from late May to early July in Atlantic Canada.

They breed at higher latitudes where tundra and boreal forest predominate. On tundra, they prefer larger, deeper lakes rather than small ponds. Most individuals breeding in the interior of North America migrate to and along the Pacific or Atlantic coasts before reaching final winter destinations.

Females return to the same nesting area each year. They nest on the ground, primarily near the coast, rivers, or large bodies of water. Crevices in coastal rocky cliffs and islets are also used for nesting. They often nest in loose colonies, sometimes 


in association with terns, gulls, or eiders.




The nest is a shallow bowl, often with a roof of standing vegetation, lined with increasing amounts of grass and downy feathers from the female as incubation progresses. Females lay an average of 9-10 eggs, but clutch size can range between 5–24 eggs. It is not uncommon for more than one female to lay eggs in another’s nest. Eggs are incubated approximately 30 days, and females may renest if the first nest is lost to predators.

Young from several broods may join to form large aggregations called crèches, which are typically attended by only one female. Young are often abandoned by the female before they can fly, often within the first week after hatching. Time required to reach fledging is poorly known, but assumed to be 60–65 days.

Males remain near the nest site until females begin incubating, then depart for molting locations, where they become flightless for 3-4 weeks while they grow new wing feathers.It is unknown where specific populations go to molt. Females molt with or near their broods on nesting areas.

Information Ducks unlimited


Doug Worrall

Lake Ontario Best Areas Bird Watching Hamilton

Lake Ontario  Some of the Best Areas  for Bird Watching

Tuesday November 15 2010

Juvenile heron

The Lake Ontario “West End”

BirdLife International partners The Canadian Nature Federation and Bird Studies Canada have identified the shoreline that stretches from Port Credit to Niagara along western Lake Ontario as an Important Bird Area. In the past decade, large numbers of waterfowl have congregated in the area, in late winter and early spring. Huge flocks of diving ducks, numbering in the tens of thousands, including Greater Scaup, White-winged Scoter, Oldsquaw, Common Goldeneye, King Eider, and Surf Scoter.

Hamilton Harbour

Separated from Lake Ontario by a sandbar and the Burlington Canal, the city of Hamilton’s harbour at the extreme west end of Lake Ontario has been designated as an Important Bird Area site for waterbird colonies. On piers and artificial islands at the east end of the harbour, continentally significant numbers of Ring-billed Gulls, Caspian Terns and Common Terns make their nests. Significant, but declining, numbers of Black-crowned Night Herons are also present.Cootes paradise is a treasure trove right in our back yard for Deer, Bald eagles, Blue herons, 20 species of ducks, Trumpeter Swans and Mute,King fishers and then all the amphibian life.The list goes on and on for Paradise.

Cootes Paradise Wetlands

Presqu’ile Provincial Park

The boot-shaped peninsula of Presqu’ile, just south of Brighton, Ontario, supports 7% of the North American population of Ring-billed Gulls, and 3% of the population of Caspian Terns. Also present are continentally significant numbers of Atlantic Brant, Dunlin, Greater Scaup and Whimbrel, with a growing population of Double-breasted Cormorants. Recently, Great Egrets have begun nesting in the Park, along with the endangered King Rail species, and the nationally vulnerable Least Bittern.

Extending about 5 kilometres into Lake Ontario from the Toronto Shoreline, this man-made peninsula just east of the Toronto Islands is home to 15% – 30% of the Canadian breeding population of Black-Crowned Night Herons. It also averages 55,000 pairs of Ring-billed Gulls, and large concentrations of migrating songbirds, including American Pipits.

Prince Edward Point, Picton

An outstanding number and diversity of migrating and nesting birds on this point, extending 10 kilometres into eastern Lake Ontario from the island of Prince Edward County, makes this location one of southern Ontario’s most popular birding destinations. Species total for this Important Bird Area is 298, including 36 species of wood warbler, 20 species of sparrow and 12 species of flycatcher. Migrants include Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco, and White-throated Sparrow. The shoals and deep waters off the peninsula provide an important waterfowl staging and wintering area for significant numbers of Greater Scaup, Oldsquaw and White-winged Scoter. Other waterfowl species include Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser and Red-breasted Merganser. During fall migration, up to 2000 hawks a day move over the Point, including Sharp-Shinned, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed hawks.

Red-Breasted Merganser

Amherst Island, Kingston

About 4 kilometres south of Kingston, between Wolfe Island and Prince Edward County in the east end of Lake Ontario, this oval-shaped island attracts significant spring concentrations of Brant and Dunlin, as well as high concentration of wintering hawks and owls (Great Gray, Boreal, Snowy, Long-eared, Short-eared Owls, Rough-legged Hawks). Double-crested Cormorants are also present in large numbers.

Pigeon Island, Kingston

Caspian Terns, Ring-billed Gulls, Double-crested Cormorants, Herring Gulls and Great black-backed Gulls are all present on this limestone island 15 kilometres south of Kingston in eastern Lake Ontario.

Wolfe Island, Kingston

At the extreme end of eastern Lake Ontario, where the waters of the Lake flow into the St. Lawrence River, large numbers of waterfowl congregate during spring migration (Greater Scaup, Canada Geese, Ring-necked Ducks, Common Goldeneye, Redheads, American Black Ducks, Snow Geese, Tundra Swans, and American Golden Plovers. The island is also known internationally for its large winter concentration of hawks and owls, including Snowy Owls, Red-tailed Hawks and Rough-legged hawks, and for its high concentration of Tree Swallows.

Sleek landing



Doug Worrall Photography