Irish Name: Síolta gheal
Scientific name: Mergellus albellus
Bird Family: Ducks
Conservation status


A rare winter visitor to wetlands from October to March.


Slightly smaller than Goldeneye. Adult males in breeding plumage are unmistakable, the head and neck being white with a black patch around the eye, as well as black lines on the back of the head and along the flanks. The rest of the body is a pale grey. Adult male Smew in eclipse plumage are similar to females, except for the black patch around the eye, as well as retaining some white on the head. Female and juvenile Smew are indistinguishable from each other and are colloquialy known as "red-head" Smew. They appear similar to a female Goldeneye, but can be recognised by the large white patch on the throat and the dark eye.


Generally silent when seen in Ireland.


Dives for small fish such as minnows, plaice and sandeels.


Does not breed in Ireland. The majority of the European population breeds in northern Scandinavia and across Russia.


Smew are only rare winter visitors to ponds and lakes in Ireland, mainly in the north and north-east. Most birds winter in Central Europe and may move westwards when lakes there freeze over.

Monitored by

Irish Wetland Bird Survey and BirdTrack.