Imagine ten nearly round white eggs snug in a hollow tree, lined with soft feathers plucked from the mother’s breast. The hen carefully tends the two-inch eggs for about a month until the chicks hatch. Prompted by their mother’s call, downy day-old chicks clamber up to the opening in the tree and leap into space, plunging head-over- tail some 50 feet down to bounce on the forest floor. They follow their mother on a perilous journey, sometimes of over a half-mile, to the relative safety of a marsh, beaver pond or woodland stream. She will protect the chicks for the next five weeks until they go out on their own.
Such is the life of a nascent hooded merganser. Chicks take to the water right away to hunt aquatic insects. As they quickly grow, keen eyesight underwater enables them hunt larger prey, such as tadpoles, frogs, small fish, mollusks, and crustaceans, including crayfish. Unique among our native pond-dwelling ducks, hooded mergansers eat fish as their main fare. » Continue Reading.