Photo of Merganser ‘Family’ taken by Linda Thurber

It takes a village to raise a duckling, and sometimes moms just need a break. Photographer Linda Thurber spotted this brave merganser female warily traversing the waters west of Ojibway Bay with at least 27 little charges in her care last week.

We’ve previously mentioned that 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 left in the care of one female – often an older matriarch experienced with raising babies.

Merganser ducklings must 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, as shown in this delightful short video (which merits re-posting now that so many cottagers have access to the miracle of Starlink). Mother mergansers protect the chicks, but they catch all their own food – they start by diving for aquatic insects and switch over to fish at about 12 days old. 

Not as vocal as the Canada goose or as dapper as the formally attired loon, the merganser seems ubiquitously low key at first glance, but these amazingly tough little birds deserve a second look.