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Mergansers’ “Toothed” Bills

Hooded and Common Mergansers can be found year-round in most of the Northeast.  The bills of these cold-hardy, fish-eating ducks are distinctive in that they may be four times as long as wide.  In addition, their structure differs from the bills of other ducks in that most ducks have plates (lamellae) or ridges on the cutting edges of their bills that let water escape from the bill when they bring prey to the surface of the water.  In mergansers, these plates have been modified to look like saw blades – they aren’t true teeth (birds lack teeth), but are very toothlike – perfect for capturing slippery fish. (Photo: juvenile Common Mergansers)

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4 responses

  1. Sarah Krebs

    Something new I learned about mergansers!

    Sent from my iPad


    November 13, 2020 at 8:00 am

  2. Elisa Campbell

    Great photo and information, as usual. I have one quibble about wording – I am super conscious of the need to make clear to people that we all are as we are because of evolution, not some master planner. So I’d prefer that the text say the bills evolved these tooth-like edges, rather than “have been modified.”

    November 13, 2020 at 8:46 am

    • Point taken and I agree with you, Elisa!

      November 13, 2020 at 2:20 pm

  3. Alice

    That would be very frustrating, to catch a fish & have it slip out of your bill. Especially if you are hungry.

    November 13, 2020 at 9:08 am

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