Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Team Hooded Mergansers

The Returning Couple
Look Carefully, Both Have Crests
His is Yet Deflated
She Has a Fish
A Beautiful Pair
Preparing Another Dive
Walking on Water (2014 Photo)
They are back! The mating pair of hooded mergansers -- and I would like to believe it is the same pair, but who knows -- are back in residence.

Supposedly, hooded mergansers are solitary and committed to a monogamous relationship so this could be the same couple that has shown up for the third year in a row.

I think the females will accept another mate if her original one dies. I believe this to be the same female and her male from last year. Let me tell you why I believe this.

2013 was the first year I ever saw mergansers of any kind. In my initial duck-confusion of that year, I thought they were wood ducks because the males have striking features just as wood ducks do and both species use nesting boxes or trees. That year I watched the babies emerge from a tree on the Bluebird Ranch next door to Elmira Pond.

To my horror, an eagle swooped down and picked off several ducklings. I watched with binoculars and yelled at the eagle. The American icon could care less. The male duck got between the ducklings and the eagle, sacrificing his life with that act. The female and two babies survived and kept their summer home on Elmira Pond.

Watching the widowed mother, I wondered at her funny cinnamon-colored mohawk. Turns out that it is a crest and she was not a female wood duck, but a female hooded merganser. She is an impressive fisher, diving and emerging with large fish and even huge bullfrogs. I've watched her rear back her head the same way that I've seen the great blue heron do to swallow a meal whole.

Last year a sole female hooded merganser showed up to Elmira Pond with three males. One remained with her and she had a larger brood of babies last year. Last year we also had a huge increase in red-winged blackbirds. They annoyed me because they often chased off the osprey, and I love watching the osprey. However, they seemed to keep the crows, hawks and eagles away, too. Perhaps this is the security system for Mrs. Hooded Merganser and her second mate.

I'd like to believe that this returning female is her. She has only one male which would indicate their monogamy, as cited in books. But I have to tell you how funny the males are!

They are called "hooded" because the males have a large crest. It inflates and deflates. Just think of other males parts that do so and having something similar on one's head is a rather silly thought. But it is majestic fully inflated. Deflated, it hangs limply like a turkey's baggy glottal.

And hooded mergansers can walk on water! I've seen it! Actually, they can run on water and they do this with their short but powerful wings and their fabulous feet. Last year, I watched a male run the entire length of Elmira Pond.

And those feet and wings are what make hooded mergansers such swift divers. I'm pleased that they have returned and I hope for another brood upon the pond.

This is part of a March Madness Series. Vote for your favorite team!

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