Smew Ducks are one of the most elegantly beautiful ducks in the world. The male Smew in breeding plumage is a brilliant white color with striking black patterns on the head, back, and breast. They have pale gray flanks and belly, and a dark gray beak. They also have a tall, rounded white crest on their heads. The male’s wings are dark gray with large white patches. Males have black eyes. Females have a chestnut-colored head, white throat, and gray plumage overall. Females usually have dark brown eyes. Both sexes have gray feet.
Young drakes and drakes in eclipse will look very much like the females. Drakes usually acquire their breeding plumage after two years. Smew are petite-style ducks and have short bills. Their bills are serrated and hooked for efficient catching of fish. They are diving ducks and are closely related to mergansers.
Range: During the breeding season, Smew Ducks are inhabitants of the northern forest of Europe and Asia – from Scandinavia and throughout Siberia. They migrate in winter to the more mild climate of sheltered coasts or along the Baltic and the Black Sea, as well as to large lakes in northern Germany and Europe. They are sometimes found in Great Britain, and they very occasionally can be found in North America, but are not considered a native species.
Habitat: The northern forests of Europe and Asia are a biome known as Taiga or Boreal forest. These forests are made of mostly coniferous trees, such as spruces, pines, and larches. Smew Ducks will be found near large freshwater sources, and seek out water populated with plenty of fish, which is the main part of their diet. They nest in hollows in trees so the large tree-lined lakes of these regions would be their most common habitat.
Status in the Wild: Least Concern
Status in Aviculture: Due to their strikingly beautiful coloration, Smew Ducks are sought after in aviculture. They do require an adequate water source but are a “must-have” for duck collectors.
Breeding: Smew Ducks are sexually mature at two years of age. They are monogamous ducks and nest in pairs or small flocks. Breeding season begins in Spring with males courting the females. Nesting is done in a tree hollow in the wild, such as a woodpecker hole, but a Wood Duck Style nest box would work fine. Clutches usually consist of 6-9 cream-colored eggs. Incubation takes about 28 days. Ducklings are coal-colored, with light coloring on their undersides. They are quite active and independent within hours of hatching.
Lifespan: Smew ducks can live 8-10 years with good husbandry.
Size: Smew are small diving ducks. They weigh between 1 and 2 pounds. They have a wingspan of 21 to 27 inches and are 14 to 17 inches in length.
Housing Requirements: Like Mergansers and other divers, Smew will do best if provided with a large and deep water source. A wading pool probably won’t be adequate as these ducks like to dive and swim underwater. Smew are a very hardy bird.
Smew are not aggressive with each other or other species, so they can be housed in a mixed flock of waterfowl. Smew and Mergansers can hybridize, though, so it is best to keep them separated.
Diet: Smew are effective divers and eat lots of fish and aquatic invertebrates in the wild. It is recommended that you supplement commercial waterfowl feed with some extra protein in the form of trout pellets or floating catfish food.
Miscellaneous Notes: Female and males in eclipse plumage are often referred to as Redhead Smew. Males in breeding plumage are sometimes called White Nuns or White Mergansers.