Saturday, June 14, 2014 Common Merganser family

Seward, Alaska

A very watchful COMMON MERGANSER hen cautiously paddled around the north end of the Lagoon, surrounded by eleven tiny, fluffy, adorable red-headed fuzzballs. Demonstrating the epitome of precocial, in which the young are ready to go a millisecond after hatching, they were off, still sporting the egg tooth. Just like mom, they already knew how to swim and look for fish by snorkeling, peering underwater, then diving to grab 3-spine sticklebacks. It took a bit of maneuvering to get the protesting spiny fish to go down headfirst, but that was soon accomplished. I did not see mom feed any babies; they were on their own in that department.

Two immature BALD EAGLES watched with great interest from a nearby spruce and beach. When one dove upon the busy family, they all instantly and simultaneously disappeared. It was an impressive reaction. While one duckling would not even be a snack, it could be a calamity for the family if the eagle snatched up mom.

Another female, however, stood nearby and watched. Mergansers are known to "adopt" another's brood, so maybe this mom was usurped. The mother in charge drove her away, not willing to share her astounding family, adopted or not. If anything happened to the Number One mom, Number Two seemed ready to guide and guard.

The second Bald Eagle also tried to grab a bite, but again the whole brood dove and disappeared as the giant predator sailed away. Then up they popped, downy feathers and all.

I noticed that the Common Merganser mother was quite easily disturbed by people on the boardwalk. Unknowingly, their excitement of seeing all the cute ducklings only made the mom take her family farther away. This caused the fragile family to expend a lot of energy, exposed them to other predators, and took them far from the shallows where it was easy for the babies to catch sticklebacks. 

If you want to watch them, walk up quietly and stay still. It's even better if you crouch down so you are not so big. Then enjoy the show and afterwards, slip away. It's an incredible peek into a wild duck's nursery!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

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