Common Merganser

This winter I had my first good opportunities with the Common Merganser.  A single female in non-breeding plumage spent several weeks at a pond I frequent and even though the lighting was typically marginal while I was there I still got some shots of her that I like.


Female Common Merganser, non-breeding plumage

 500mm, 1.4 tc, 1/500, f/7.1, ISO 640

Notice the serrated bill of this fish eating duck – a very effective tool for holding on to their slippery prey. 



Female Common Merganser, non-breeding plumage

500mm, 1.4 tc, 1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 500

This duck gave me a variety of interesting poses in the several days I photographed her but much of the time she was too far away for a quality shot.  This was one of the exceptions. 



Female Common Merganser, non-breeding plumage

500mm, 1.4 tc, 1/400, f/7.1, ISO 640 

 I had a difficult time getting light in the eye while she was preening.  Here’s one image where I succeeded.



Female Common Merganser, non-breeding plumage

 500mm, 1.4 tc, 1/1600, f/7.1, ISO 500

I’m convinced that the reason this merganser hung around the pond for as long as it did is because she was an accomplished thief.  The pond had a resident population of about a dozen Pied-billed Grebes and those grebes are very good fishermen.  I seldom saw the merganser actively fishing but whenever a grebe caught a fish this duck was instantly in pursuit in an effort to steal the fish – which is just what she’s doing in this shot. 



Female Common Merganser, non-breeding plumage

  500mm, 1.4 tc, 1/1600, f/7.1, ISO 400

I was often amused by the variety of positions the merganser could hold her crest – from slicked back and conforming to the back of the head to  angled forward and everywhere inbetween. 



Female Common Merganser, non-breeding plumage

  500mm, 1.4 tc, 1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 500

This is perhaps my favorite shot of this female.  I like the light on the face, the eye contact and the colors in the water. 

One day I’d love to get some photos of this species in breeding colors but that’s not likely to happen since their breeding territory is mostly north of me. 




5 comments to Common Merganser

  • Jim Hackley

    Wonderful photos and they have quite a unique color pattern to them.

  • Hi Ron, I found your blog via a link on Mia’s blog. You do wonderful work. I really like the images of this common merganser. She is beautiful, even in non-breeding plumage. You caught some great poses here, I especially like the one where she is racing across the water-the look on her face is so alert.

  • Theo, You’re absolutely right – this is a female instead of a male as I had originally identified it in this post. I’ve made the changes. Thank you very much for the correction! Hopefully I’m better at photographing birds than I am at identifying them. I’ve always struggled a bit with duck ID.


  • Some great shots on this common merganser, Ron. Except what you shot is the female, not the male. These guys are extremely difficult to get close to…they’re real scaredy cats. I was going to send you a shot I took today of 2 males and 1 female in flight (just a grab shot of them coming down the Poudre River here west of Ft. Collins, CO, but this blog doesn’t let me attach anything. If you email me I can attach on a reply. Again, love the shots!
    Good job.

  • Hi Ron,

    I really enjoy reading your blog and studying your images. I’m very impressed about your detailed knowledge of the animals that are in your pictures. It is a great source of information and inspiration for my own endeavors to shoot birds and other wildlife.
    Thank you,

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