Streaming Mergansers

Our Longboat Key condo sits on an inlet of Sarasota Bay and offers a view of the main channel, framed by mangrove islands.  Late this morning, while watching white pelicans, egrets and roseate spoonbills along the inlet, I saw a line of red-breasted mergansers flying low across the bay, passing behind the islands.  To my delight, the streaming flock continued to pass for ten minutes or more, likely composed of at least 2000 ducks.

Unlike their cousins (common and hooded mergansers), which winter on open freshwater lakes and rivers across much of North America, red-breasted mergansers prefer coastal bays and estuaries, where they feed with pelicans, cormorants, loons, ospreys and other sea birds.  There they gather in huge flocks, diving for fish and joining in the feeding frenzies that often develop at low tide.

Indeed, of all the sea birds that winter on Sarasota Bay, red-breasted mergansers are likely the most abundant.  On some days, only a few are encountered while, on others, these attractive ducks nearly cover the inlet.