Find the best places to hunt Common Merganser in Canada. Discover their Physical Description, Range, Habitat, Food Source, Breeding Habits, and Status.  

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) Common Merganser, Mergus merganser LC

Range - Distribution and Habitat of the Common Merganser:

Range Map of Common Merganser
 Common Merganser Range Map

Original Source of Map of North America from

Modified by:


The Common Merganser is a native duck that may reside on a year-round basis in a few parts of southern Canada. As a breeding resident it has a good representation in every one of Canada’s provinces and it is only in the northern territories that its presence is lacking. However, it does migrate southward from the Canadian breeding grounds in the winter.

Nesting/breeding Habitat

This bird likes to breed on clear freshwater lakes, head waters of rivers, and streams. The criteria is that the bodies of water contain lots of fish for them to feed on. They like the water to be enclosed by stands of mature hardwood trees. For a nesting site it will favour a woodpecker or natural tree cavity. Guidelines are, that it likes to be within 0.62 miles (1 km.) of water. The entrance to the nest should be no more than 49.2 ft. (15 m.) above ground level. And the entrance should be about 4.7 inches (12 cm.) wide with an internal cavity of about 9.8 inches (25 cm.). 

Should a suitable tree cavity not be found it will nest amongst a tree root in an undercut bank, on a cliff ledge, under tangled bushes, in a rock cleft, or in dense scrub or loose boulders on an island.

Because the Common merganser is a diving predator that must visually locate its next meal under water. It likes to forage on clear waters with a water depth of less than 13.1 ft. (4 m.) deep. 

Winter Habitat

It prefers large unfrozen freshwater or brackish bodies of water like lakes, rivers, lagoons, bays and marshes. Only if the winter conditions become extremely harsh will it take to the high saline waters of the sea coast. At this time, you may find large flocks of up to 70 birds on a shoal foraging for fish.

Description of Common Merganser:

Common Merganser

The Common merganser may be found under the classification of a Diving Duck or a Sea Duck. In the aquatic food chain it is considered to be one of the top predators.

The Common Merganser is the largest member of the Merganser family. Males are larger than females. Males and females can be differentiated by the colour of their heads and the colour of their wings. Males are white-winged with green to black coloured heads, a black back, and a white cylindrical body. Females and immature males have brown heads and gray wings. Females also have a distinguishing line between its brown neck and white breast that aids in determining if it is a female Common Merganser or a female Red-breasted merganser as the two are very similar. Both sexes have a thin red bill and red feet.

This species will range 22 to 28 inches (55.9 to 71.1 cm.) long, a wingspan of 31 to 39 inches (78.7 to 99 cm.). and a body mass of 2.0 to 4.5 lbs. ( 2 kg.).

Banding records for this bird indicate that the maximum lifespan of a wild specimen could be 12 ½ years for a male and 13 5/6 years for a female.

Diet and Foraging Strategy of the Common Merganser:

Mergansers tend to feed at sunrise and sunset. It is estimated that only 20% of the population feeds between the hours of 10:00 am and 4:00 pm.

The Merganser in general is sometimes referred to as a “fish duck”. So, it is not surprising to find out that it mainly eats fish. Preferred size of fish is less than 3.9 inches (10 cm.) long. However, it will also consume amphibians, small animals, small birds, and aquatic invertebrates like molluscs, crustaceans, worms, and adult and larval insects).

Its main strategy is to chase slower moving fish and catch them with its serrated bill. However, it is capable of foraging in  under-water crevices if the water is murky.

Breeding and Reproduction of the Common Merganser:

The Common merganser comes back to its breeding grounds somewhere between March and May. The bond between paired mates is a monogamous one that was formed in the winter months. It is not known if the monogamous bond is a yearly formation or if it is carried on in future years. At this time, they may form a small group of 8 to 10 individuals or may pair off as a single pair. This will be the only nesting attempt in the year and the male flocks with other males once the incubating process has started.

May and June is when the female will lay her clutch of eggs that averages 8 to 12 eggs that are 2.5 inches (6.4 cm.) long. It takes her 28 to 35 days to incubate the eggs. An average of 10 hatchlings are born in an advanced state of development (precocial) and are able to walk, swim and feed themselves after drying.

The hen, will within 24 to 48 hours, take her brood to the nearest waterway where she will teach them to fend for themselves. The first days of a chicks’ life is spent feeding on the surface of the water. But, within about 8 days, they become adept at diving for food.

This duck has a variation in its rearing process where the hen will leave her chicks to fend for themselves once they are about 30 to 50 days of age. They won’t fledge until they are 60 to 70 days old. It is common for broods of abandoned chicks to join with other abandoned broods and form small groups of up to 40 individuals.

The fall migration seems to be tied to nature freezing the waterways and forcing this species to head southward to areas where the water is open. This generally occurs anywhere from October to December.

Both male and female members of this species reach sexual maturity at the age of 2 years.

Status of Common Merganser:

The Common Merganser was assessed by BirdLife International in 2012 and was placed on the ICUN’s Red List as a species of Least Concern. Justification for this assessment on the Red List was because it has a very large range and the population trend is tending to be on the upward swing.

Predation rates for this bird are low and that is in part to its nesting habits. Raiders of the nest would include predators like Red Squirrels, American Martins, Northern Flickers, and Black Bears. Once the immature birds are out of the nest, predators like eagles, hawks, owls, loons and northern pike would be a concern.



Common Merganser

Creative Commons

  • © Smithsonian Institution - Supplier: Robert Costello
  • © International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources - Source: IUCN
  • © WoRMS for SMEBD - Source: World Register of Marine Species
  • © The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors - Source: Animal Diversity Web
  • © NatureServe - Source: NatureServe
  • © The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors - Source: BioKIDS Critter Catalog
  • © Joao Pedro de Magalhaes - Source: AnAge
  • Notes On The Feeding Behavior Of The Common Merganser (Mergus Merganser) BERTIN W. ANDERSON’ - -

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  • Population Status of Migratory Game Birds in Canada 2015 - CWS Migratory Birds Regulatory Report Number 45
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