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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Sawbill time! Goosander. Brighton Marina. 23.11.21

I walked to the east arm of the Marina to see if I could see the Guillemot that has been hanging around in the water to the east of the east arm; it wasn't, but I saw this solitary female Goosander.

Goosanders only breed in the north; but some migrate within the UK to the south in the winter. It was very cold today; and the beginning of a cold snap across the country.

It is almost exactly a year ago when I saw three Red-Breasted Mergansers (another duck in the sawbill family, along with Goosanders) on Widewater Lagoon (25.11.20). Here is one:

According to a BirdGuide post that was posted on Facebook a few hours after I saw this Goosander; now is the time for seeing sawbills! BirdGuides spotting guide : Sawbill photo ID guide - BirdGuides, which says, interestingly: Compared with Red-breasted Merganser, it [Goosander] is much less commonly seen in coastal waters.

These handsome diving ducks are a member of the sawbill family, so called because of their long, serrated bills, used for catching fish. A largely freshwater bird, the goosander first bred in the UK in 1871. It built up numbers in Scotland and then since 1970 it has spread across northern England into Wales, reaching south-west England. Its love of salmon and trout has brought it into conflict with fishermen. It is gregarious, forming into flocks of several thousand in some parts of Europe. UK breeding:3,100-3,800 pairs/ UK wintering:12,000 birds. Goosanders can be seen in the upland rivers of N England, Scotland and Wales in summer. In winter they move to lakes, gravel pits and reservoirs, occasionally to sheltered estuaries. Goosander Duck Facts | Mergus Merganser - The RSPB

The following text is from GOOSANDER | Features | Bird Watching

Whatever you have learnt about ducks probably isn’t true about the Goosander. This is a very different animal from your quacking park staples, and almost everything they do, it doesn’t do.

If you take a list of unusual duck facts, many of them will be true of Goosanders. The Goosander is a duck apart, a thoroughbred and a maverick. Far from being a portly, bread-ivorous consumer of benefit handouts, the Goosander is a big-game fishing duck.

Instead of occupying slummy waters in the urban sprawl, this bird is at home in fast-flowing, highly oxygenated, supercharged wild rivers and deep pools. It lives, in many parts of its range, among forests full of bears and wolves. It is the antithesis of the duck that is, if not domesticated, then domiciled. It is wild and untamed.


Their diet, too, is the opposite of a handout. Many species of ducks, throughout the world, take an extremely leisurely approach to feeding. Mallards, for all their adaptability, give the impression that they are never making any more effort than we would to dig up carrots. Shovelers bulldoze the water surface, Teals pick seeds from the mud; Pochards graze underwater and sleep for much of the rest of the time; even Eiders in the sea only dive down to yank immotile cockles from the sea bed.

Goosanders, though, are birds that chase, and their prey is both fast and reluctant to be caught. They are among the very few ducks that catch fish for a living, along with their ‘sawbill’ relatives, the Red-breasted Merganser and Smew. These ducks need pace underwater, and they need unobstructed space in which to spot and snatch their prey.

Almost any fish species less than 20cm in girth may be consumed, anything from a stickleback to a salmon. They catch what is most abundant; in extreme cases they can swallow a fish 36cm long. They will search among the sediment and among stones, in a submarine world it is hard for us to imagine. They have excellent vision and will hunt well into dusk, or even after dark.

The serrated edges of their mandibles allow them to hold slippery prey.

Goosanders don’t follow the duck trail in much of their breeding behaviour, either. Despite being large, they nest in holes in trees, or sometimes rocks or strange sites, such as hollow logs on the ground, or in buildings.

These holes may be anything from 1m above ground to an impressive, decidedly lofty 30m. True, that epitome of duck-hood, the Mallard, will sometimes nest in tree-holes as well, but among duck species as a whole it remains unusual. Most types, from Tufted Ducks to Gadwalls, nest among vegetation on the ground.



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