Last week a female Hooded merganser dropped by spend some time in our garden pond.
She and her mate usually come by once a year, around this time, but they’ve never stayed more than a few hours. This time Ms. Merganser came alone, and to our delight, stayed for two full days and two nights. It was lovely to watch her from the house – although it caused some delay in our garden projects, as we didn’t want to disturb her.
She swam lively laps and made fast, repeated dives. We watched her feeding hungrily, ripping at the roots of the plants around the perimeter, but also diving in the middle of the pond, where plants were less likely the attraction. We wondered what non-vegetarian items were on her menu, and hoped she wasn’t emptying the pond of the critters we love: rough-skinned newts, Pacific tree frogs or their scarcer Red-legged cousins.
The pond’s surface is very reflective, as you can see in the photo. Underneath, the water is murky and brown. So it’s amazing to me that a bird can find food there, let alone enough to feed actively for two days. It turns out that Hooded mergansers have the right stuff for just such a challenge: they have a transparent extra eyelid, protecting their eyes like a pair of goggles, and they can actually change how their eyes bend light, giving them excellent underwater vision.
We wondered aloud whether she might nest in one of the woodpecker cavity trees in our woods. We tried to imagine those one-day old fluff balls leaving the nest: the tiny birds jump from their lofty home, which can be as much as 50 feet high, to the forest floor. How they survive is beyond the ken of ponderous, earth-bound creatures like us!
Over the two days there was no sign of her flashy, white-hooded mate. I wondered when and where they would meet up. These birds are monogamous, but how do they find each other again after their separate adventures?
Romance must have been in the air. Ms. Merganser left early in the morning on February 14. Perhaps she was off to her rendezvous, or maybe she was leaving to make way for the pair of Mallards that have used this little private pond on that date for the past couple of years.
Sure enough, just after Ms Merganser left, the pair of Mallards arrived for their annual tryst. What would Valentine’s Day be without ducks?