Male (top) and female Smew
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Subfamily: Merginae
Genus: Mergellus
Selby, 1840
Species: M. albellus
Binomial name
Mergellus albellus
(Linnaeus, 1758)

Mergus albellus

The Smew (Mergellus albellus) is a small duck, which is somewhat intermediate between the typical mergansers (Mergus) and the goldeneyes (Bucephala). It is the only member of the genus Mergellus; sometimes included in Mergus, this genus is distinct (though closely related) and might actually be a bit closer to the goldeneyes.[1] The Smew has interbred with the Common Goldeneye (B. clangula).

An unnamed fossil seaduck, known from a humerus found in the Middle Miocene Sajóvölgyi Formation (Late Badenian, 13–12 million years ago) of Mátraszõlõs, Hungary, was assigned to Mergus. However, the authors included the Smew therein, and consequently, the bone is more properly assigned to Mergellus—especially as it was more similar to a Smew's than to the Bucephala remains also found at the site. It is sometimes[2] argued that the Mátraszõlõs fossil is too old to represent any of the modern seaduck genera, but apparently these were all well-distinct even back then.[3]

The living species is known to exist since about 2 to 1.5 million years, as attested by fossils from the earliest Pleistocene found in England.[4]


The drake Smew, with its 'cracked ice' appearance, is unmistakable, and looks very black-and-white in flight. The females and immature males are grey birds with chestnut foreheads and crowns, and can be confused at a distance with the Ruddy Duck; they are often known as "redhead" Smew. It has oval white wing-patches in flight. The Smew's bill has a hooked tip and serrated edges, which help it catch fish when it dives for them.

Distribution and ecology

Smew taking off

This species breeds in the northern taiga of Europe and Asia. It needs trees for breeding. The Smew lives on fish-rich lakes and slow rivers. As a migrant it leaves its breeding areas and winters on sheltered coasts or inland lakes of the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, northern Germany and the Low Countries, with small number reaching Great Britain (for example, at Dungeness), mostly at regular sites. Vagrants have been recorded in North America. On lakes it prefers areas around the edges, often under small trees.

The Smew breeds in May and lays 6–9 cream-colored eggs. It nests in tree holes, such as old woodpecker nests. It is a shy bird and flushes easily when disturbed.

The Smew is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies. It is not considered threatened by the IUCN.[5]


  1. ^ Livezey (1986)
  2. ^ E.g. Mlíkovský (2002): p.123
  3. ^ Gál et al. (1998-99)
  4. ^ Mlíkovský (2002): p.123
  5. ^ BLI (2004)


  • BirdLife International (BLI) (2004). Mergellus albellus. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 11 May 2006., Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
  • Gál, Erika; Hír, János; Kessler, Eugén & Kókay, József (1998–99): Középsõ-miocén õsmaradványok, a Mátraszõlõs, Rákóczi-kápolna alatti útbevágásból. I. A Mátraszõlõs 1. lelõhely [Middle Miocene fossils from the sections at the Rákóczi chapel at Mátraszőlős. Locality Mátraszõlõs I.]. Folia Historico Naturalia Musei Matraensis 23: 33-78. [Hungarian with English abstract] PDF fulltext
  • Livezey, Bradley C. (1986): A phylogenetic analysis of recent anseriform genera using morphological characters. Auk 103(4): 737-754. PDF fulltext DjVu fulltext
  • Mlíkovský, Jirí (2002): Cenozoic Birds of the World, Part 1: Europe. Ninox Press, Prague. ISBN 80-901105-3-8 PDF fulltext

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

, , (Mergus albellus)

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Smew — Smew, n. [Perhaps for ice mew.] (Zo[ o]l.) (a) small European merganser ({Mergus albellus}) which has a white crest; called also {smee}, {smee duck}, {white merganser}, and {white nun}. (b) The hooded merganser. [Local, U.S.] [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • smew — [smyo͞o] n. [var. of smee, akin to obs. Du sme(ente), MHG smiche, kind of small duck] a small Eurasian merganser (Mergus albellus), the male of which has a white crest …   English World dictionary

  • smew — noun Etymology: akin to Middle High German smiehe smew Date: 1674 a small Eurasian merganser (Mergus albellus) with the male being white, gray, and black and the female chiefly gray but with a chestnut and white head …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Smew — mažasis dančiasnapis statusas T sritis zoologija | vardynas atitikmenys: lot. Mergus albellus angl. Smew vok. Zwergsäger …   Paukščių anatomijos terminai

  • smew — mažasis dančiasnapis statusas T sritis zoologija | vardynas atitikmenys: lot. Mergellus albellus; Mergus albellus angl. smew vok. Zwergsäger, m rus. луток, m; малый крохаль, m pranc. harle piette, m ryšiai: platesnis terminas – dančiasnapiai …   Paukščių pavadinimų žodynas

  • smew — dančiasnapiai statusas T sritis zoologija | vardynas atitikmenys: lot. Mergus angl. merganser; smew vok. Säger, m rus. крохаль, m pranc. harle, m ryšiai: platesnis terminas – dančiasnapiai siauresnis terminas – brazilinis dančiasnapis siauresnis… …   Paukščių pavadinimų žodynas

  • smew — n. a small merganser, Mergus albellus. Etymology: 17th c., rel. to smeath, smee = smew, widgeon, etc …   Useful english dictionary

  • smew — /smyooh/, n. a Eurasian duck, Mergus albellus, closely akin to mergansers: the male is white marked with black and gray. [1665 75; orig. uncert.] * * * …   Universalium

  • smew — noun /ˈsmju/lang=en A small compact diving duck, Mergus albellus, that breeds in the northern taiga of Europe and Asia and winters on sheltered coasts or inland lakes …   Wiktionary

  • smew — n. very small merganser of Europe and Asia; small diving duck …   English contemporary dictionary

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