Press "Enter" to skip to content

Mother Duck Raises 76 Ducklings

Bemidji, Minnesota —(Map)

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.

Common Merganser - male and female
The Common Merganser is a kind of duck.
The female is behind, the male is in front.
(Source: Bengt Nyman, via Wikimedia Commons.)

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.

Brent Cizek took this picture of the mother merganser and her ducklings.
Brent Cizek took this picture of the mother merganser and her many ducklings.
(Source: Brent Cizek / brentcizekphoto.com. Twitter/Instagram)

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.

When Mr. Cizek went back to the lake later, he counted 76 ducklings.
When Mr. Cizek went back to the lake later, he counted 76 ducklings.
(Source: Brent Cizek / brentcizekphoto.com. Twitter/Instagram)

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.

Mergansers usually have between eight and 12 babies.
This Merganser has a normal number of babies.
Mergansers usually have between eight and 12 babies.
(Source: Toivo Toivanen & Tiina Toppila, via Wikimedia Commons.)

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.

Female common mergansers sometimes lay eggs in other birds' nests.
Mergansers often lay some of their eggs in other birds’ nests.
Sometimes one mother can raise the babies of many others.
(Source: Frank Schulenburg, from Wikimedia Commons.)

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…”

Bemidji, Minnesota


View Larger Map
Share:

Settings

Most news on NewsForKids.net is appropriate for all ages. When there is news that may not be suitable for all ages, we try to tag it. You can use the setting below to control whether content tagged in this manner is shown.