When photographer Brent Cizek went out on Lake Bemidji in late June, he wasn’t expecting much. But what he saw really surprised him – a mother duck with about 50 ducklings swimming behind her.
The mother was a kind of duck called a Common Merganser. Mr. Cizek worked hard to get close enough to snap a picture of the mother and her babies. At first they seemed very nervous. But later he was able to get his boat close enough to take some pictures. One of the pictures told the story perfectly.
Later, Mr. Cizek went back to the lake to try and take more pictures of the mother and ducklings. On one trip he counted 76 ducklings.
That is clearly too many ducklings for one mother. Mergansers usually only have between eight and 12 babies.
But it’s not unusual for a mother to raise more babies than that. Female mergansers do a couple of interesting things that help explain how one duck could have 76 ducklings following her.
One unusual thing that mother mergansers do is to lay some of their eggs in the nests of other birds. Scientists think they may do this to improve the chances that some of the babies will survive, even if something happens to the mother.
The other interesting thing about mergansers is that one duck can raise the babies of many others, kind of like a child care system.
David Rave works with wildlife near Lake Bemidji. He says that many of the mergansers there are related and lay their eggs about the same time.
Mr. Rave says that after the eggs hatch, many of the mothers go off to molt. That’s a normal process where birds lose feathers and wait for new ones to grow back in. While these mergansers are molting, one female is taking care of all the ducklings.
The group of babies is called a crèche. Mr. Rave says that this crèche is unusually large. “I’ve seen crèches up to 35 and 50 often, but 70 — that would be a very big crèche,” he told the New York Times.
Mr. Cizek has kept going out to the lake. He says that the ducklings are growing quickly and are starting to go out on their own. But, he says, “…as soon as Mama Merganser starts heading somewhere, they all quickly follow…”
Spent another morning with the mergansers. They are growing so fast. They continue to venture further out on their own, but as soon as Mama Merganser starts heading somewhere, they all quickly follow suite. Count is still at 70+. pic.twitter.com/MkIRc0wUnZ
— Brent Cizek (@brentcizekphoto) July 23, 2018
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