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What is a Smew?

By Alex Terris
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A Smew is a species of duck that inhabits regions of Europe and Asia. The bird is known for its distinctive appearance — especially the males — and is often seen on lakes, ponds, and rivers. A Smew needs trees in order to breed; during the summer months, it will usually inhabit small holes in trees. The species is not on the endangered list and is thought to be of “Least Concern" by international conservation groups.

Smews are small duck-like birds. Most males won’t grow longer than 17.5 inches (44.4 cm), while females are several inches smaller. The bill is thick and pointed, with a jagged edge to help the bird keep hold of its prey. Due to its white coloring, Smews are sometimes said to have a “cracked ice” appearance especially while flying.

Male Smews are very easy to recognize, as the entire body is white aside from narrow, thin patches of black. These black patches often run along the length of the body and may appear around the eyes. Females are less straightforward to differentiate from other species. The female body is grey, and the bird will usually have a red or brown head and white wings. An easily recognizable feature is the large patch of white located just behind the eyes.

The Smew is generally found in China, Russia, Japan, and Central Europe. Sometimes the birds are seen in Great Britain, although they are more likely to migrate to Germany and other nearby countries. Smew birds have, on occasion, been sighted in the U.S. in the New York area.

The birds typically live in freshwater areas such as ponds. During the summer months, the birds are more likely to be found nesting in trees near slow rivers and other bodies of water, while in the winter they find sheltered coastlines or lakes. To breed, a Smew nests in trees, and the species will lay up to nine eggs in one season. Nests are often found in old woodpecker holes because these are the perfect size. Breeding typically takes place in the months of May and June.

As a species, the Smew has been around for approximately two million years. The earliest fossils have been located in England dating back to the Pleistocene era. Fossils from similar species, dating back to a much earlier age, have been discovered. The Smew is not considered to be in danger of extinction at this time.

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Discussion Comments
By anon173995 — On May 09, 2011

Is the Smew a hierarchical species?

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