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December 2018

Saturday, 1 December 2018

December Bird of the Month - Red-breasted Merganser

December Bird of the Month - Red-breasted Merganser

Seen in Britain throughout the year they favour slow flowing rivers and lakes in the north and west during the summer. They build their ground nests amongst tree roots, in crevices in banks or between rocks.

There is an influx of migrants from northern Europe between late autumn and March and they spend these months on estuaries around the coast. Good numbers have been reported on the Medway, Swale and off the north-east coast of Kent. Their lifespan is about eight or nine years.

Mergansers can be confused with the similar but slightly larger goosanders. They both have shaggy, punk-like crests and red bills but the merganser's bill is finer and slightly upturned, whereas the goosander's is thick-based and hooked at the tip.

The male merganser has a dark green head, white collar, grey and white body and spotted chestnut chest. The female is grey with a reddish-brown head that merges with a pale throat and grey neck. In flight the male shows white patches on his wings, whilst the female has smaller wing patches. Females have one dark bar across the patches and adult males have two dark bars. Juveniles resemble dark females, as do males in eclipse.

Red-breasted mergansers are normally silent except when displaying or nesting. They swim low in the water and dive frequently for fish, sand-eels, small crabs, shrimps, prawns and aquatic insects. They are often seen in small, single sex groups but can form larger flocks in winter.

Join our walk at Medway Council's Riverside Country Park for a chance of connecting with this attractive species. For further info on this bird, check out the RSPB link below.