Common mergansers

I love seeing the sleek, black-and-white figures of male common mergansers in breeding plumage on the partially frozen waters of the Bow River. There seems to be a certain symmetry between the winter river and the birds. On overcast days, the river appears black and white and grey, its thick ice covered in blankets of pure white snow and its water, wild ribbons of greys and black. Black-and-white mergansers disappear in the summer and fall. From July to October, males in eclipse plumage wear the grey bodies and reddish-brown heads of females and juveniles.

It was too cold to go birdwatching for a couple of hours on December 28th 2016 but the weather was pleasant enough to take a stroll along the river near my favourite Calgary bakery. On the St. Patrick’s Island path, I didn’t hear or see a lot of bird life. I heard the ‘peek’ of one downy woodpecker and saw a juvenile bald eagle fly over the little forest of balsam poplars and across the river. I stared and stared at the empty river until a black-and-white duck flew by. Intriguing! (Photo below of a later flying event.)

Maybe he landed nearby? A few minutes of walking later, I found him floating with another black-and-white duck. Male mergansers! And then I spotted two others. They preened, floated, swam against the current, dove, bobbed up and down, and flew. And I found all that delightful.

A view of downtown Calgary from St. Patrick’s Island. The bakery is on the northeast corner of downtown.


  1. I haven’t seen any mergansers for a long time. Lovely shots. They are are hard to photograph and get details in both darks and lights. A bit of extra processing sometimes works to bring out the eyes.

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    • Thanks for your sweet compliment, Lois :-). I’ve heard that many mergansers migrate away from Calgary in the winter but maybe they do so mostly because many water bodies freeze and become unfishable. They seem to have enough insulation to handle the cold weather. I wonder how they sleep at night…


  2. Beautiful images! Imagine how cold that water was and they seem so happy in it! We’ll be seeing them again soon in their red headed plumage. I’m looking forward to that.

    The skyline is beautiful from that vantage point.

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  3. A few times late last winter I was lucky enough to see some ducks in breeding plumage too. Like you, I really like how they echo the winter water colors. Very chic! Now I’ve ordered a better camera and am waiting impatiently for it to come. It has already been a week longer than they told me…hm. I hope I can get some nice pictures like these πŸ™‚

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  4. I can never seem to get enough of the mergansers, such a beautiful bird. So what a delight it was to see your common mergansers here, Myriam — you were rewarded on this cold day with some excellent views and photos. And that nearby bakery probably had a great reward for you too. Great post~~

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