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Typical mergansers
Red-breasted merganser (Mergus serrator)
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Subfamily: Anatinae
Genus: Mergus
Linnaeus, 1758
Type species
Mergus castor[1]
Linnaeus, 1766

Mergus australis New Zealand merganser
Mergus merganser Common merganser
Mergus milleneri Chatham merganser
Mergus octosetaceus Brazilian merganser
Mergus serrator Red-breasted merganser
Mergus squamatus Scaly-sided merganser

Mergus is the genus of the typical mergansers (/mɜːrˈɡænsərz/ mur-GAN-sərz)[2] fish-eating ducks in the subfamily Anatinae. The genus name is a Latin word used by Pliny the Elder and other Roman authors to refer to an unspecified waterbird.[3][4]

The common merganser (Mergus merganser) and red-breasted merganser (M. serrator) have broad ranges in the northern hemisphere. The Brazilian merganser (M. octosetaceus) is a South American duck, and one of the six most threatened waterfowl in the world, with possibly fewer than 250 birds in the wild. The scaly-sided merganser or "Chinese merganser" (M. squamatus) is an endangered species. It lives in temperate East Asia, breeding in the north and wintering in the south.

The hooded merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus, formerly known as Mergus cucullatus) is not of this genus but is 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.[5]

Mergus ducks are also classified as "diving ducks" because they submerge completely 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.[6]


The genus Mergus was introduced in 1758 by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae.[7] The genus name is the Latin word for an unidentified waterbird mentioned by Pliny the Elder and other authors; some sources have identified the original mergus as referring to either a cormorant or Scopoli's shearwater.[8][9][10][11] The type species was designated as the common merganser (Mergus merganser) by Thomas Campbell Eyton in 1838.[12][13]

Recent species

The genus contains four living species and two recently extinct species.[14][15][16]

Image Scientific name Common name Distribution
Mergus australis New Zealand merganser New Zealand (extinct c. 1902)[17]
Mergus merganser Common merganser Europe, northern and central Asia, and North America
Mergus milleneri Chatham Island merganser Chatham Island, New Zealand (extinct sometime after human settlement of the Chatham Islands,[16] which began c. 1500[18])
Mergus octosetaceus Brazilian merganser Brazil
Mergus serrator Red-breasted merganser Northern North America, Greenland, Europe, and Asia.
Mergus squamatus Scaly-sided merganser East Asia

Fossil species

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.[20] A Late Serravallian (13–12 million years ago) fossil sometimes attributed to Mergus, found in the Sajóvölgyi Formation of Mátraszőlős, Hungary, probably belongs to Mergellus.[21] 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.[22]


  1. ^ "Anatidae". The Trust for Avian Systematics. Retrieved 2023-08-05.
  2. ^ "merganser". The Chambers Dictionary (9th ed.). Chambers. 2003. ISBN 0-550-10105-5.
  3. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 251. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  4. ^ Etymology: Latin mergus, a catch-all term for sea-going birds: Arnott, W.G. (1964). "Notes on Gavia and Mergvs in Latin Authors". Classical Quarterly. New Series. 14 (2): 249–262. doi:10.1017/S0009838800023806. JSTOR 637729. S2CID 170648873.
  5. ^ "Common Goldeneye". Seattle Audubon Society. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  6. ^ Livezey, Bradley C. (1986). "A phylogenetic analysis of recent anseriform genera using morphological characters" (PDF). Auk. 103 (4): 737–754. doi:10.1093/auk/103.4.737.
  7. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema Naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Vol. 1 (10th ed.). Holmiae (Stockholm): Laurentii Salvii. p. 129.
  8. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 251. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  9. ^ Arnott, W. G. (1964). "Notes on Gavia and Mergvs in Latin Authors [Notes on Gavia and Mergus in Latin Authors]". The Classical Quarterly. 14 (2): 249–262. doi:10.1017/S0009838800023806. ISSN 0009-8388. JSTOR 637729. S2CID 170648873.
  10. ^ White, Heather (2011). "Language and style in Ovid". Veleia (in Spanish) (28). doi:10.1387/veleia.6309 (inactive 31 January 2024). ISSN 2444-3565.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of January 2024 (link)
  11. ^ "Ornithological Approaches to Greek Mythology: The Case of the Shearwater" (PDF). CAMWS.
  12. ^ Eyton, Thomas Campbell (1838). A Monograph on the Anatidae, or Duck Tribe. London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longman. p. 76.
  13. ^ Mayr, Ernst; Cottrell, G. William, eds. (1979). Check-List of Birds of the World. Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 496.
  14. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (July 2021). "Screamers, ducks, geese & swans". IOC World Bird List Version 11.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 24 August 2021.
  15. ^ "Auckland Island merganser | Miuweka | New Zealand Birds Online". Retrieved 2022-05-30.
  16. ^ a b "Chatham Island merganser | New Zealand Birds Online". Retrieved 2022-05-30.
  17. ^ BirdLife International (2016). "Mergus australis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T22680496A92864737. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22680496A92864737.en. Retrieved 29 May 2022.
  18. ^ "Moriori | people | Britannica". Retrieved 2022-05-30.
  19. ^ Mlíkovský, Jirí (2002a). "Early Pleistocene birds of Stránská skála, Czech Republic: 2. Absolon's cave" (PDF). Sylvia. 38: 19–28. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-04-11. Retrieved 2008-08-05.
  20. ^ Mlíkovský (2002b): p. 264
  21. ^ 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.]" (PDF). Folia Historico Naturalia Musei Matraensis (in Hungarian and English). 23: 33–78. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2007-02-06.
  22. ^ Mlíkovský (2002b): p. 124


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