Hong Kong’s first Scaly-sided Merganser

From edge of Tai Lam Chung Reservoir in northwest New Territories, Hong Kong on 24 January 2023; trip to see what in birding world is a MEGA – a Scaly-sided Merganser, found by John Chow, who confirmed identity after quick flight views a few days previously.

Scaly-sided Merganser, Hong Kong

This duck breeds in ne China, N Korea and east Russia; mainly winters across much of China but overall population perhaps in range 3600-6800 (Scaly-sided Merganser in Birdlife Datazone), and endangered as numbers evidently decreasing. Has been recorded as far as Thailand, Burma, so some can wander a bit. 

species I’ve hoped to see since first went to China in 1985 (!); this is the first for Hong Kong, causing quite a stir here.

Lucky today, arriving after it had been resting much of early morning, then started feeding in channel with strong water flow surely of mostly water supplied from s China. Spotted by my son, David. 

Scaly-sided Merganser and Little Egret “buddy”

Here with its egret “friend”, which in videos and a little as we saw today seems to follow the merganser, looking for creatures it startles.

Scaly-sided Merganser searching for prey in stream.

Unusual to me for a diving duck: the merganser just put head down into shallow water, searching for prey [fish, shrimps etc]; not really diving. And favouring the short stretch of water with fast flow; not the reservoir – I’ve seen v similar species, red-breasted merganser and goosander, readily feeding in deeper, still water. Online, I indeed find this species favours fast-flowing shallow rivers, usually in forest.

Sadly, this bird has an injured beak [lower mandible], with tongue dangling down. A friend, Paul Crow, suggests maybe after an incident with a fish hook. Paul works at Kadoorie Farm, and later messaged: “Seems our vet has been consulted about the bird already yesterday . Possibly/probably old and tongue colour is good so he thinks should be ok …..”

Otherwise seems healthy. I had wondered in a local birding group if worth considering catching it, to then try healing injury; but would be very difficult to catch, and maybe it can survive, hopefully even return to breeding grounds to nest…


  1. Hi Martin Williams,

    My name is James Modesto. I am a student journalist reporting for The Young Reporter of the Hong Kong Baptist University. I am writing an article on the scaly-sided merganser. I enjoyed reading the article and would like to know if it is possible for you to help me reach out to John Chow. As the article mentions, he seemed to be the first person to ID the bird.

    Please let me know if anything.

    Yours sincerely,

    James Modesto

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