The fastest creature on earth is a Peregrine Falcon, which can reach tremendous speeds of 390 kilometres per hour when swooping in for the kill. Peregrines have become increasingly plentiful in Ireland, and the fastest duck on the planet also calls this island home.
A Red-Breasted Merganser escaping from the flight of an airplane was once recorded flying at the staggering speed of 160 kilometres per hour. This exotic and colourful duck is currently wintering around the West Pier.
Mergansers are diving ducks and members of the sawbill family. They are sleek and streamlined birds and enthralling to watch. On Christmas Day, I watched one for over an hour. I counted three males and one female swimming around between the Pier and Seapoint bay, frequently darting down into the depths of the water in the hope of catching their Christmas dinner.
Their Latin name, Mergus serrator, derives from ‘mergus’ used by Pliny and other Roman authors to refer to a waterbird, and ‘serrator”; a sawyer, deriving from the Latin for ‘saw’ serra. They are very striking birds with a spiky crest and long thin red bill with serrated edges, which is very unusual and unique for a duck and is because of their special diet. All other ducks are vegetarians, but Mergansers eat fish.
The male Merganser has a dark head with a green sheen, a white neck with a rusty breast, black back, and a white under body. Adult females have a rusty head and a grey body. The juvenile is like the female without the white collar and a smaller white wing patch.
A handful of Mergansers breed in large lakes in the west and north-west, but the Dún Laoghaire Mergansers are likely to have flown all the way from the Subarctic to winter in our warmer Irish waters.
Keep an eye out for these gorgeous ducks when walking the West Pier, which is a fantastic place for bird watching.