There is a flock of common mergansers wintering in the harbor in Wrangell. They move around the boats and docks through the day, hunting and occasionally stopping to preen and nap.
These mergansers are very skittish about humans, paddling away, diving, or taking flight when they see people. For the most part we don't pose that big a threat to them though, as mergansers, being fish eaters, taste terrible. Even the smell of merganser flesh being cooked will drive people right out of the cabin. Tales abound of proud novice hunters bringing home mergansers only to despair that the meat has a rotten-fishy smell to it...and that their family has vacated to see what the neighbors miles away are having for dinner.
Females have that pretty cinnamon colored head and grey bodies. Males have more striking plumage, with black and white markings on the body, and a black head that flashes iridescent green in the sunlight.
Mergansers stick their faces in the water to look for prey as they paddle along.
Click on the images to enlarge them.
The common merganser's slender bill has sharp, tooth-like serrations that angle back toward it's head to help it hang onto fish and other prey. A duck with teeth. And attitude. They'll probably never agree to having their picture taken again after I tell you that they have really big red feet. I think of their feet as a rapid propulsion system, but the mergansers seem to be a little bit sensitive about the subject.
I've been enjoying watching these pretty birds this winter, and hope that you enjoyed this little glimpse of them!
More birds in Southeast Alaska: