(mər-găn'sər) pronunciation
Any of various fish-eating diving ducks of the genus Mergus or related genera, having a slim hooked bill. Also called sheldrake.

[New Latin : Latin mergus, diver (from mergere, to plunge) + Latin ānser, goose.]

Any species of the diving duck genus Mergus. Essentially freshwater birds, they are classified as a sea duck (tribe Mergini). Mergansers have a long body and a narrow, serrated, hooked bill for catching fish. The males of all but the common merganser, or goosander (M. merganser), are crested. The common merganser, the hooded merganser (M. cucullatus), the red-breasted merganser (M. serrator), and the smew (M. albellus), a small, compact merganser with a short bill, live in northern regions; the only southern species is the Brazilian merganser (M. octosetaceus). Mergansers are called trash ducks because their flesh is rank. shelduck.

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Typical mergansers
Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
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 typically have black-and-white, brown and/or green hues in their plumage, and most have somewhat shaggy crests. All have serrated edges to their long and thin bills that 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. They are also classified as "divers" because they go completely under-water in looking for food. 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 Serravallian (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

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