The Smew (Mergellus albellus) is a medium-sized bird in the wild duck family. It is a diving duck. It is a sea duck, living in marine (saltwater) locations, but it breeds in freshwater lakes. It is also known as the Redhead Smew and the White Nun. It is related to the Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula).
The male and female Smew look different. The male Smew is mostly white, with a black patch around his eye, a black nape, white crest feathers, and a grey rump and sides, with two fine black lines on each side of his chest. Its beak is grey. Its legs and webbed feet are grey.
The female has a rufous-brown (red-brown) head, nape and neck, a white throat and white cheeks, with grey upperparts and a mottled-grey chest. She has brown eyes, grey beak, grey legs, and grey webbed feet. Both the male and the female have a beak with a hooked tip.
It grows to 38-44 centimetres (15-17 inches) in length, with a wingspan of 55-69 centimetres (22-27 inches).
The Smew is native to Northern Europe and Asia. It prefers wetlands, pools, slow-moving rivers, estuaries, bays, sheltered coasts, and inland lakes. It is migratory and flies south in winter to warmer locations.
It feeds on aquatic insects and small fish. It swims along the surface of the water and dives to catch its food. Its hook-tipped beak helps it to catch fish, which it brings to the surface to eat. It swallows the fish head first.
The male is called a drake, and the female is called a duck. They form a monogamous pair. They make a nest in tree holes.
The female lays 8-11 greenish eggs, which hatch after 26-28 days. The chicks are precocial at birth, which means that they have some feathers and become independent quickly.
Photographer: Martina Nicolls
Martina Nicolls: SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM