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Red-breasted Merganser, Len Jellicoe
Photo © Len Jellicoe

Photo: Len Jellicoe
Breeding evidence - Red-breasted Merganser
Breeding evidence

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Red-breasted Merganser
Mergus serrator

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Elevation range:
0 - 741 m
Conserv. status:
Not at risk
Global importance
of B.C. population:
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
7 4 16 10
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
Canada1970 - 2012 3.62 (-1.8 - 10.6)Low

Mean abundance by region

Bird Conservation Regions [plot]
NW Interior ForestBoreal Taiga PlainsGreat BasinNorthern RockiesN. Pacific Rainforest
0.13     2.25
Ecoprovinces [plot]
N. Boreal Mountains Taiga Plains Boreal Plains Georgia Depression Sub-Boreal Interior
S. Interior Mountains Central Interior Southern Interior S. Alaska Mountains Coast & Mountains

Mean abundance by habitat [plot]

Boreal Altai Fescue AlpineBoreal White and Black SpruceBunchgrassCoastal Douglas-fir
Coastal Mountain-heather AlpineCoastal Western HemlockEngelmann Spruce -- Subalpine FirInterior Cedar -- Hemlock
Interior Douglas-firInterior Mountain-heather AlpineMontane SpruceMountain Hemlock
Ponderosa PineSpruce -- Willow -- BirchSub-Boreal Pine -- SpruceSub-Boreal Spruce

Characteristics and Range This medium-sized, fish-eating duck with its long, shaggy crest is familiar on British Columbia coasts in winter. The Red-breasted Merganser has a wide distribution in boreal forest and tundra of the Northern Hemisphere. In North America, it breeds across the Low Arctic tundra and the Boreal Forest, and winters mostly on salt water south to the Pacific Coast of Mexico and the Gulf Coast. In the Palearctic, it breeds across northern Eurasia and winters south to the Mediterranean Sea and Taiwan (Craik et al. 2015).

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat Campbell et al. (1990) note that the Red-breasted Merganser "breeds only near Atlin Lake and on islands in Masset Inlet". The Atlas surveys expanded the confirmed and probable breeding distribution to additional locations in the Coast and Mountains and Northern Boreal Mountains ecoprovinces, and to new locations (Takla Narrows and Stuart Lake) in the Sub-Boreal Interior Ecoprovince. However, the Red-breasted Merganser remains a scarce nester in British Columbia; the Atlas records included only seven records of confirmed breeding. Most nesting is below about 750 m elevation.

Most observations during the Atlas surveys were in the Atlin Lake area in the far north and the Masset Inlet area on Haida Gwaii. Most records of confirmed breeding were in the Northern Boreal Mountains Ecoprovince. Size and trends of populations in North America are not reliably known (aerial surveys of breeding birds often do not differentiate between Common and Red-breasted mergansers, and large portions of their range are not surveyed).

The Red-breasted Merganser is a semi-colonial nester in a variety of habitats close to water, including forested river banks, marsh edges, lake shores, rocky islets, coastal islands, and vegetated sandy shores.

Conservation and Recommendations There are few conservation concerns for this species in British Columbia. Nests near water in low-lying coastal areas, however, may be vulnerable to ongoing sea-level rise (Craik et al. 2015).

Art Martell

Recommended citation: Martell, A. 2015. Red-breasted Merganser in Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada. Delta, B.C. [14 Jun 2024]

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