Mergansers are the only ducks that specialize in eating fish. They swim underwater using their long, slender bills with serrated edges to catch and hold their prey.

a family of red-breasted mergansers swim in shallow water

Types of Mergansers

Common mergansers

Common merganser

Features: Males have white sides and breasts, deep green heads and dark backs. The pearl gray bodies and white breasts of females, subadults, and eclipse males are sharply delineated from their full-crested chestnut heads.

Habitat: During the winter, these ducks are wide-spread in rivers, lakes and marshes across the state.

Techniques: Not usually sought for table fare.

Hooded merganser

Hooded merganser

Features: The male has a striking black head with a white crest, white breast, black back, and chestnut sides. Females and immatures are dull grayish brown except for a reddish-brown crest.

Habitat: During migration hooded mergansers are widespread, though uncommon, across Oregon. They are usually in sheltered areas of lakes and ponds and less commonly on estuaries. Often seem in pairs or small groups.

Techniques: Not usually targeted, they can be part of a mixed duck bag.

Red-breasted merganser

Red-breasted merganser

Features: Males have a ragged-crested, dark green head, a reddish-brown breast, a dark back and gray sides. Females share the ragged crest; their rufous heads and gray bodies may make it hard to tell them from female common mergansers. Their bills, however, are noticeably slimmer.

Habitat: Red-breasted mergansers are common from fall through spring, mostly in coastal bays and estuaries but occasionally on the open ocean.

Techniques: Their preferred habitat within dangerous ocean waters makes them inaccessible to hunters.