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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Typical mergansers
Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Subclass: Neornithes
Infraclass: Neognathae
(unranked): Galloanserae
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Subfamily: Merginae
Genus: Mergus
Linnaeus, 1758

Mergus australis (extinct)
Mergus merganser
Mergus octosetaceus
Mergus serrator
Mergus squamatus

Mergus[1] is the genus of the typical mergansers, fish-eating ducks in the seaduck subfamily (Merginae). The Hooded Merganser, often termed Mergus cucullatus, is not of this genus but closely related. The other "aberrant" merganser, the Smew (Mergellus albellus), is phylogenetically closer to goldeneyes (Bucephala).

Although they are seaducks, most of the mergansers prefer riverine habitats, with only the Red-breasted Merganser being common at sea. These large fish-eaters have serrated edges to their bills to help them grip their prey. Along with the Smew and Hooded Merganser, they are therefore often known as "sawbills". The goldeneyes, on the other hand, feed mainly on mollusks, and therefore have a more typical duck-bill. In other traits, however, the genera Mergus, Lophodytes, Mergellus and Bucephala are very similar; uniquely among all Anseriformes, they do not have notches at the hind margin of their sternum, but holes surrounded by bone.[2]


Some fossil members of this genus have been described:

The Early Oligocene booby "Sula" ronzoni was at first mistakenly believed to be a typical merganser[4]. A Late Badenian (13-12 million years ago) fossil sometimes attributed to Mergus, found in the Sajóvölgyi Formation of Mátraszõlõs, Hungary, probably belongs to Mergellus[5]. The affiliations of the mysterious "Anas" albae from the Messinian (c.7-5 million years ago) of Hungary are undetermined; it was initially believed to be a typical merganser too[6].


  1. ^ Etymology: Latin mergus, a catch-all term for sea-going birds (see Arnott, 1964)
  2. ^ Livezey (1986)
  3. ^ Mlíkovský (2002a)
  4. ^ Mlíkovský (2002b): p.264
  5. ^ Gál et al. (1998-99)
  6. ^ Mlíkovský (2002b): p.124


  • Arnott, W.G. (1964): Notes on Gavia and Mergvs in Latin Authors. Classical Quarterly (New Series) 14(2): 249-262. First page image
  • Gál, Erika; Hír, János; Kessler, Eugén & Kókay, József (1998-99): Középsõ-miocén õsmaradványok, a Mátraszõlõs, Rákóczi-kápolna alatti útbevágásból. I. A Mátraszõlõs 1. lelõhely [Middle Miocene fossils from the sections at the Rákóczi chapel at Mátraszőlős. Locality Mátraszõlõs I.]. Folia Historico Naturalia Musei Matraensis 23: 33-78. [Hungarian with English abstract] PDF fulltext
  • Livezey, Bradley C. (1986): A phylogenetic analysis of recent anseriform genera using morphological characters. Auk 103(4): 737-754. PDF fulltext DjVu fulltext
  • Mlíkovský, Jirí (2002a): Early Pleistocene birds of Stránská skála, Czech Republic: 2. Absolon's cave. Sylvia 38: 19-28 [English with Czech abstract]. PDF fulltext
  • Mlíkovský, Jirí (2002b): Cenozoic Birds of the World, Part 1: Europe. Ninox Press, Prague. ISBN 80-901105-3-8 PDF fulltext

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MERGANSER, a word due to C. Gesner (Hist. animalium iii. 129) in 1555, and for long used in English as the general name for a group of fish-eating ducks possessing great diving powers, and forming the genus Mergus of Linnaeus, now regarded by ornithologists as a'sub-family, Merginae, of the family Anatidae. The mergansers have a long, narrow bill, with a small but evident hook at the tip, and the edges of both mandibles beset by numerous horny denticulations, whence in English the name of "saw-bill" is frequently applied to them. Otherwise their structure does not much depart from the Anatine or Fuliguline type. All the species bear a more or less developed crest or tuft on the head. Three of them, Mergus merganser or castor, M. serrator, and M. albellus, are found over the northern parts of the Old World, and of these the first two also inhabit North America, which has besides a fourth species, M. cucullatus, said to have occasionally visited Britain. M. merganser, commonly known as the goosander, is the largest species, being nearly as big as the smaller geese, and the adult male in breedingattire is a very beautiful bird, conspicuous with his dark glossygreen head, rich salmon-coloured breast, and the upper part of the body and wings black and white. This full plumage is not assumed till the second year, and in the meantime, as well as in the post-nuptial dress, the male much resembles the female, having, like her, a reddish-brown head, the upper parts grey and the lower white. In this condition the bird is often known as the "dun diver." This species breeds abundantly in many parts of Scandinavia, Russia, Siberia and North America, and occasionally in Scotland. M. serrator, commonly called the red-breasted merganser, is a somewhat smaller bird; and, while the fully-dressed male wants the delicate hue of the lower parts, he has a gorget of rufous mottled with black, below which is a patch of white feathers, broadly edged with black. Both these species have the bill and feet of a bright reddish-orange, while the much smaller M. albellus, known as the smew, has these parts of a lead colour, and the breeding plumage of the adult male is white, with quaint crescentic markings of black, and the flanks most beautifully vermiculated.

M. cucullatus, the hooded merganser of North America, is in size intermediate between M. albellus and M. serrator; the male is easily recognizable by his broad semicircular crest, bearing a fanshaped patch of white, and his elongated subscapulars of white edged with black. The conformation of the trachea in the male of M. merganser, M. serrator and M. cucullatus is very like that of the ducks of the genus Clangula, but M. albellus has a less exaggerated development more resembling that of the ordinary Fuligula. 1 From the southern hemisphere two species of Mergus have been described, M. octosetaceus or brasilianus, L. P. Vieillot (N. Diet. d'Hist. naturelle, ed. 2, vol. xiv. p. 222; Gal. des oiseaux, torn. ii. p. 209, pl. 283), inhabiting South America, of which but few specimens have been obtained, having some general resemblance to M. serrator, but much more darkly coloured, and M. australis, Hombron and Jacquemont (Ann. sc. nat. zoologie, ser. 2, vol. xvi. p. 320; Voy. au Pol Sud, oiseaux, pl. 31, fig. 2), known only by the unique example in the Paris Museum procured by the French Antarctic expedition in the Auckland Islands.

Often associated with the mergansers is the genus Merganetta, the so-called torrent-ducks of South America, of which six species have been described; but they possess spiny tails and have their wings armed with a spur. These with Hymenolaemus Malacorhynchus, the blue duck of New Zealand, and Salvadorina waigiuensis of Waigiou are placed in the sub-family Merganettinae. (A. N.)

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