Gentlemen may prefer blonds, but we prefer beaver ponds…
Mergansers are expert divers. Swimming serenely, they suddenly disappear, leaving barely a ripple, and can remain submerged for up to two minutes. All birds have a nictitating membrane, a transparent extra eyelid; for mergansers, this serves as a diving mask that allows them to keep their eyes open underwater where they swim gracefully with webbed feet. Using wings to steer, they appear to fly through a liquid sky.
“They’re a cool bird to watch,” said Dr. Kevin McGowan at Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology, “popping up in little ponds—very similar to wood duck nesting habitat. In fact, they often share the same pond, but hooded mergansers dive underwater to find their food, while wood ducks feed on the surface.”
“Between the 1980 and 2000 Breeding Bird Atlas surveys in New York,” said McGowan, “the occurrence of hooded mergansers more than doubled. They like beaver ponds, and there are more beavers now than there have been for a long time. Their breeding range has also moved south, probably due to reforestation over the past 100 years, which has improved their habitat.” The occurrence of breeding hooded mergansers nearly tripled in Vermont between 1981-2007, according to findings of the first and second Vermont Breeding Bird Atlas, edited by the Vermont Center for Ecostudies.
National Audubon predicts that, as the climate warms, hooded mergansers will significantly expand their winter ranges northward and live year-round where they are currently found just during the breeding season. Researchers in Manitoba discovered that, in 2001 hooded mergansers were returning to their breeding grounds 32 days earlier than they had been returning in 1939.
Despite its ever-changing environment, the endearing, diminutive waterfowl that is known to the Cree as the “beaver duck” is doing just swimmingly.
The beaver duck! Isn’t that wonderful? All these years I’ve been talking how hooded mergansers showed up in our beaver pond and Napa’s beaver pond, and I thought I was on to something but I wasn’t sure. Now I’m sure. This makes me happy. The Cree are one of the largest tribes of first nations in North America and extended across the middle band of Canada. The definitely knew their beaver because the Cree was one of the most important nations for the Fur Trade in the Hudson Bay Company of early Canada. When I gave a talk to the waterboard one fish scientist asked whether our mergansers eat themselves out of house and home, because they were such voracious fish eaters.
I’m just glad that these birds and beavers get along.