Merganser, a name applied to most of the saw-billed ducks, of the subfamily mergina, of which the goosander, the largest specie-, has been described under that title. The bill is very slender, narrow, compressed, ending in a conspicuous nail, with the edges serrated; tarsi much compressed, the scales largest an-teriorlv; and the tail feathers 18 in the North American species. In the genus mergus (Linn.) the bill is longer than the head, and mostly red, with the serrations conical, acute, and recurved; the tarsi about two thirds of the middle toe, tail about half the length of the wings, and head with a depressed crest. The red-breasted merganser (M, serrator, Linn.), sometimes called sheldrake in this country, is about 2 ft. long, with an extent of wings of 33 in., bill 21 in., and a weight of 2 1/2 lbs. In the male, the head and upper neck are dark green, the throat reddish brown with black streaks, sides finely barred with transverse black lines, feathers in front of wing white with black margins, white of wing crossed by two black bars, and under parts reddish white; head with conspicuous pointed crest; nostrils posterior.
In the female, the upper parts are ash-colored, the lower reddish white, compressed crest chestnut brown, black at base of secondaries exposed; outer tertials white, edged with black. This bird is distributed over the whole of North America and Europe, fishing chietly in fresh water; it breeds in the middle and eastern ites, and as far north as Labrador, beginning to build, according to latitude, from the first of March to the middle of May, among the rank grasses near fresh water; the nest is carefully made of dried weeds and mosses, and lined with down from the breast of the female; the eggs are from 6 to 10, 2 1/2 by 1 5/8 in., in shape like those of the domestic fowl, and of a uniform pale yellowish cream color; the young take to the water at once, swimming and diving with great expertness. It is a very shy bird, and dimenlt to procure; the flight is rapid and well sustained; the habits are gluttonous; the food consists of fish, and its flesh is tough and fishy - In the genus lophodutes (Reich.) the bill is shorter than the head, black, with ob-lique low. short serrations, and the point truncated and not recurved nor acute; tail more than half the wings, tarsi half the middle toe, and head with an erect vertical crest.
The only species is the hooded merganser (L. cucul-latus, Reich.), which is about 18 in. long, with an extent of wings of 26 in., bill 2 in., and a weight of about 1 1/2 lb. In the male, the head, neck, and back are black, with the under parts and centre of crest white; sides chestnut brown, barred with black; two black crescents on the white in front of the wing; lesser coverts gray; speculum of wing white, with a basal and median black bar; tertials black, with central white streaks; crest semicircular. In the female, the crest is shorter and more pointed; the head and neck reddish brown; no pure black on the back nor bars on the sides; white on the wings less, and the size much smaller. This, with the exception of the European while merganser (mergellus albdlus, Selby; see Smew), is the handsomest of the family. The habits are those of the other mergansers; it is distributed over the whole of North America. The eggs are like those of the preceding species, except that they are smaller; the flesh has a fishy taste and odor. - There is a small merganser in South America, for which was established the genus merga-netta (Gould), which seems to mark the transition from the ducks to the mergansers.
The bill is as long as the head, straight, compressed, elevated at the base; the shoulder of the wiug in both sexes is armed with a strong sharp spur; the tail is lengthened and rounded, of rigid and pointed feathers. The only species mentioned by Gray is the M. armata (Gould), found inhabiting the rapid rivers of the Andes, swimming and diving against the mountain torrents with the utmost ease; so at home is it on the water, and so rarely disturbed, that it seldom makes use of its wings except for short flights; they are generally seen in pairs. - The affinity of the mergansers with the ducks is further shown by the occurrence of hybrids; in the cabinet of the Boston society of natural history there is a wild hybrid between the L. cucullatus and the golden-eyed duck (bucepliala Americana).
Red-bivusted Merganser (Mergus serrator). 1. Mule. 2. Female.
Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) - Male.
Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cueullatus) - Female.