Thu Mar 2023

Common Mergansers*

Recently I devoted several posts to a small band of Hooded Mergansers that had elected to remain on the pond until it froze over, despite the loss of their favorite prey, the once abundant Bluegill sunfish, which fell victim to a massive die-off last March. These migrants had obviously found other sources of food.

A small flock of Common Mergansers had been visiting about the same time. Distant cousins to the smaller Hooded Mergansers, they also took a stand against austerity by falling back on smaller prey. Molluscs, crustaceans, worms, insect larvae, and amphibians are all on the menu of these intrepid, deep-divers.

For several weeks the larger mergansers remained resolutely far out in the pond, beyond the reach of even my telephoto lens. Then, suddenly, a few ventured close enough for me to photograph, allowing me finally to acknowledge their presence in print. On Christmas Day, a thin crust of ice formed overnight, forcing all of the rest of their band closer to shore where the warm water remained open.

Mergansers are partial migrants. They’ll remain on a pond unless and until ice forms, and then migrate to wherever they can find an ice-free location. Different this year was the small number of both species that stayed on — no more than a dozen each — in stark contrast to winters past when the small, Bluegill sunfish were plentiful, and so were the visitors.

As regular readers will know, male ducks are called “drakes,” and the females are “hens.” In frame two, a drake has just caught a small fish, almost surely a Bluegill. These catches are rare now, of course, but I did see two such last summer. The sunfish may be down, but they’re not out.

I titled frame four, “The Flock,” with literary license; it’s rare to see the whole flock together. There are always a few individuals feeding under water, or straggling at the other end of the pond. In fact, the photo recorded six hens, but only one drake, the other five males no doubt prowling about elsewhere on the pond. I estimate the total number of ducks in this small flock at about twelve.

The photos were taken between December 19th and 25th, 2012. The date and time is noted under each. They are displayed in the order taken.