Merganser Courtship Display

This article features 15 consecutive handheld Pro Capture H images of a merganser courtship display, captured during a recent visit to LaSalle Park. Fortunately I had already set a practice session objective for myself that day which was to photograph everything using Pro Capture H… so I was ready for this opportunity.

NOTE: This article has been updated based on bird behaviour information provided by one of our readers, Glen Fox. Our thanks to Glen!

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/3200, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4301 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.1 metres

This was the closest I’ve ever been to mergansers. Typically they tend to be a bit skittish. For whatever reason the birds were in closer to the shoreline than usual and didn’t seem to be bothered by my presence.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/3200, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4299 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.1 metres

I had never viewed this merganser behaviour before so when I got home and did a bit of research. The reference I found indicated that the opening of the bill and lowering of the neck and head is a merganser threat display. While I originally misidentified the behaviour illustrated in this article as a threat display, one of our readers, Glen Fox, provided detailed documentation identifying this as courtship behaviour.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/3200, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4299 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.1 metres

Before capturing these images I turned the Frame Limiter off on my E-M1X so my image run would continue after I fully depressed my shutter release. I shot at 60 frames-per-second which is my standard approach when using Pro Capture H. The 15 consecutive frames in this article represent  a total of 1/4 second of merganser threat display motion time.

There is one additional image at the very end of this posting that shows an interaction between a couple of mergansers. I’m not sure if this was connected to the courtship display illustrated in this article.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/3200, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4299 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.1 metres

One of the things that I absolutely love about my Olympus/OM System camera gear is the Pro Capture technology. It allows a photographer to confidently and reliably capture behavioural moments like this one. Let’s have a look at the next 11 photographs from this image run.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/3200, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4299 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.1 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/3200, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4299 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.1 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/3200, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4299 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.1 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/3200, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4301 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.1 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/3200, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4299 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.1 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/3200, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4299 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.1 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/3200, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4299 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.1 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/3200, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4299 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.1 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/3200, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4299 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.1 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/3200, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4299 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.1 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/3200, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4299 pixels on the width, subject distance 17.1 metres

For those of us who enjoy bird photography having Pro Capture H technology at our fingertips significantly expands our photographic potential. I love being able to capture subtle differences in body, neck and head positions when using Pro Capture H at 60 frames-per-second. If my memory serves the new OM-1 takes this up a notch with 120 fps capability.

Technical Note:

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.  Crops are noted. Photographs were resized for web use. This is the 1,145 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 484 mm, efov 968 mm, f/8.9, 1/2500, ISO-1250, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4818 pixels on the width, subject distance 16.8 metres

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3 thoughts on “Merganser Courtship Display”

  1. The Merganser looks terrified. Starring skywards and pulling its neck ever lower below water surface. Other than humans — e.g., hunters or youths taunting, harassing — what in the skies preys on these birds? Owls, hawks, eagles? Was someone nearby perhaps using a drone which could trigger anxiety and fear?

    1. Hi Liz,

      It was very quiet at the park… no drones, no hunters (the park is near a residential area), no kids harassing or making noise. Occasionally there are bald eagles and hawks in the area but I did not specifically see any at that time. There were a few mergansers in close proximity to each other… about a half dozen birds. It certainly is possible that the merganser in my photo could have seen a hawk or eagle… although it made the same display three of four times within a short time frame, and it seemed to me that the behaviour was directed at the mergansers that were in close proximity.

      The mergansers stayed fairly close to shore and were feeding regularly for some time. I would think that if there was anything of significant danger the birds would not have stayed around or continued feeding.

      Tom

    2. Hi Liz,

      One of our readers, Glen Fox, provided detailed behavioural information identifying the action captured in this article as courtship behaviour. I have adjusted the article accordingly.

      Tom

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