Damaged merganser in Maine

15 12 2009

Red-breasted merganser hauling out repeatedly in Maine.

Kirk Gentalen, prospective SEANET volunteer and all-around nature aficionado, sent us these photos of a  red-breasted merganser he observed up around Vinalhaven in Maine. The bird kept hauling out near a bridge where mergansers don’t commonly hang out. Kirk took a closer look at the bird and noticed that both of its wings appeared abnormal. Both were angled out from the body rather than being held close to the flanks. I suggested that this bird might have a developmental abnormality since both wings are affected. We rarely see simultaneous fractures in both wings without substantial (often fatal) injuries to the rest of the body (gulls being an exception to this rule; they frequently mangle both wings quite inexplicably).

Developmental abnormalities in the wings can be present at hatch and derive from contaminants, genetic mutations, and a host of other causes. They can also develop over time as the bird grows due to nutritional imbalances, for instance.

Kirk raised a very reasonable objection to the developmental abnormality theory: how had the bird traveled to Maine from Nova Scotia if not by flying? It is possible that the bird swam, but this case is puzzling. SEANET would love to be able to examine the bird, and necropsy it should it be found dead. Kirk has promised to fetch the bird should it meet its demise and turn up on shore somewhere.

Seanetters are on the frontlines of seabird disease and SEANET is working toward a more proactive approach to reports like these. So do let us know if you see anything weird out there–we want to hear about it!

Close-up of the merganser: both wings are held at bizarre angles.

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2 responses

15 12 2009
Jenette Kerr

The repeated hauling out behavior reminds me of some of the ailing common eiders I’ve seen on the outer Cape. It always seems weird to me when a non-breeding duck wants to be on land; the back and forth movement between water and land suggests to me the bird’s not feeling normal.

16 12 2009
Mary Wright

Wing position might indicate lead poisoning. Are feces or vent-staining visible when bird hauls out? Lead poisoned birds have bright green poops.

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