Take a leap of faith! At one day old, the mother calls these young ducks to the edge of the nest to take a plunge 10-50 feet down.
This is the only duck left in its genus and the second smallest of the six living species of mergansers in the world. The genus name, Lophodytes, comes from the Greek language; lophos which means “crest” and dutes which means “diver”. And what a crest this duck has.
This is a sexually dimorphic species, which means that the male and female can look very different. They look similar during the non-breeding season, but when he is in breeding plumage, his flamboyant crest is black with a large white patch. She has a greyish-brown body and a light reddish-brown crest. He is mostly black and white with rich chestnut flanks. They are a small duck, with a thin bill.
Mergansers will pair up in late fall or early winter. And this is where that striking black and white crest is raised and spread in a display to the female. She will nest in a tree cavity near water, or in artificial nest boxes. The nest is filled with wood chips and debris and covered with soft down.
She will lay between 10-12 eggs. The female handles incubation alone and it takes 26-41 days for eggs to hatch. With 24 hours of hatching, the young leave the nest in spectacular fashion. The female calls to them from below the nest urging them to crawl to the opening and jump the 10 to 50 feet to the ground. The young are precocial meaning they are able to find their own food
immediately, though the female tends to them for the next several weeks.
They live in forested country, near lakes, along small creeks and edges of ponds. In winter, they may move to wooded swamps or coastal estuaries. These are the only ducks that specialize in eating fish. They dive underwater and with their good underwater vision can easily find fish by sight. Mergansers eat fish and other aquatic life such as crayfish and other crustaceans, aquatic insects, tadpoles, mollusks, and small amounts of plant material. The young start by eating mostly insects.
They run across the water and with fast wingbeats to take flight. They are a short-distance migrant during late fall and early spring. The ducks we see in our area from November through April breed in the northwest.
Tri County Wildlife Care, a local nonprofit started in 1994, is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of our native wildlife and helping our community live in balance with wildlife. They envision a world where wildlife and people thrive together. For more information call (209) 283-3245, or visit pawspartners.org.