by Trudy Irvine, PaBIA’s Education Committee
How many mergansers do you see in this photo? Three dozen or so? Mother mergansers have their work cut out for them- with the crisply colored green and white males departing shortly after breeding in the spring, the females are on their own with their flotillas of young for the summer. Common Mergansers are known to form “creches” (the care of another’s offspring in a colony) with groups of up to 30 or 40 ducklings, though single females leading over seventy ducklings at one time have been observed. Talk about ducky daycare!
Merganser ducklings have to be tough and grow up fast. Females usually nest in natural tree cavities or holes carved out by large woodpeckers. (On occasion they use rock crevices, holes in the ground, hollow logs, old buildings, or chimneys.) Young leave their nest hole within a day or so of hatching. The flightless chicks leap from the nest entrance and tumble to the forest floor. The mother protects the chicks, but they catch all of their own food- they start by diving for aquatic insects and switch over to fish at about 12 days old.
Have a look at this amazing video of one day old mergansers leaping from their nest to begin their life on the water- you will have a whole new respect for these seemingly shy little birds and get your whole recommended daily allowance of cute in just a couple minutes.