Feathered Factlet - Flight Speed of Red-breasted Merganser

Factlet - a small or trivial piece of information that is nonetheless true or accurate.

Factoid - a small or trivial piece of information that is false but presented as a fact so often that it is accepted as a truth rather than a falsehood.

Red-breasted Merganser
Nikon D500, 500mm f/4 lens + 1.4x teleconverter
1/4000 sec at f/6.3, ISO 1600
St. Marks NWR (FL), Jan. 14, 2017

Article appearing in The Condor in 1961. The Condor is a peer-reviewed scientific journal covering ornithology. It is an official journal of the American Ornithological Society.

Thompson, M. C. 1961. The flight speed of a Red-breasted Merganser. Condor, 63: 265.

The Flight Speed of a Red-breasted Merganser.-In the course of investigating the terrestrial avifauna of the Cape Thompson area of northern Alaska for the United States Atomic Energy Commission, several low aerial reconnaissance flights of the Kukpuk River (latitude 68 deg 22’ N, longitude 166 deg 00’ W) were made. On May 29, 1960, a flock of six Red-breasted Mergansers (Mergus serrator) was flushed from the river ahead of the airplane. The area in which this flock was flushed was bordered on the south by a sheer bluff, rising to about 30 feet, and on the north by a bank 4 feet high. The wind was blowing from the west at 20 miles per hour. At the time the ducks were flushed we were flying east up the river. When the ducks took flight, all the birds turned aside except one male which flew slightly below and ahead of the airplane. This bird with a burst of speed managed to keep his position in relation to the aircraft for about 1500 feet before finally losing ground and turning aside. The air speed of the airplane during the chase was 80 miles per hour. The 20 miles per hour wind from the west added to the 80 miles’per hour air speed would give the bird a ground speed of 100 miles per hour. Similar flights had been conducted several times before and although mergansers had been flushed, none behaved in such a manner that an air speed could be calculated. Cooke (Flight Speed of Birds, U. S. Dept. Agr. Circ. 428, 1937) did not list the flight speed of the Red-breasted Merganser in her compilation of flight speeds. Tbe fastest speed of a duck that she recorded was that of a Canvasback (Aythya valisineria) with a clocked speed from an airplane of 72+/- miles per hour.-MAX C. THOMPSON, Arctic Health Research Center, Anchorage, Alaska, November 25, 1960.

David Sparks

I retired in 2005 after 40 years of research and teaching at the University of Alabama in Birmingham (24 years), the University of Pennsylvania (8 years) and the Baylor College of Medicine (8 years). Photography is my retirement hobby.

Nature photography, especially bird photography, combines a number of things that I really enjoy: bird-watching, being outdoors, photography, travel, messing about with computers, and learning new skills and concepts.  I now spend much of my time engaged in these activities.

David Sibley in the preface to The Sibley Guide to Birds wrote "Birds are beautiful, in spectacular as well as subtle ways; their colors, shapes, actions, and sounds are among the most aesthetically pleasing in nature."  My goal is to acquire images that capture the beauty and uniqueness of selected species as well as images that highlight the engaging behaviors the birds exhibit.