ID Tips – Loons vs Mergansers
Common Loons and Red-breasted Mergansers
are beautiful waterfowl which many associate with the Northern Woods, as they typically breed on these fresh-water lakes. Both birds are found in similar territories year round. During breeding season they have more distinctive markings. But sometimes the
birds are at a distance or not in breeding plumage, and you need to rely on some basic differences in the species to tell them apart:
Breeding season markings: Look for the Common Loon’s “tuxedo” markings and the Red-breasted Merganser’s bright orange bill and shaggy crest.
Shape: Loons tend to be bulky and sit very low on the water, and Common Loons are the largest of the loons in North America. Mergansers are thinner long birds, and sit higher in the water so you can see their tails.
Bill: Loons have a thick, dagger-like bill; mergansers sport a thin, longer bill which in some species is bright orange.
Call: The Common Loon has an unmistakable and other-worldly call; the merganser call is more duck-like.