Nature Notes: Mergansers

<I>CRAIG SPARKS photo</I><BR>Mergansers are among the fastest members of the duck family, routinely whipping by at 60 miles an hour.

Part duck, part cormorant, part woodpecker and part loon, with a curious resemblance to the comic character Woody Woodpecker, mergansers are the attack team of the duck world. They can fish in salt water, fresh or brackish bays, foul weather or fair.

They seem to be bottomless in their appetites for fish, and they are often the bane of fish hatcheries because they can really put down the little fish.

Just doing what mergansers do, they live, and socialize a bit differently than some of of their feathered cousins.

Normally they don't gather in very large flocks, and it seems that they generally just stay in small, family-like pods.

Mergansers are far and away more aggressive than other waterfowl in their habitat. Even among themselves, there usually seems to be some tension.

Pit bulls, hungry lions and mergansers all seem to catch the attention of other critters around than when they have some kind of issue.

These feathered divers are some of the most beautiful birds you'll ever see on the water. They are sleek and fast flyers, and are commonly clocked at over 60 miles per hour. Their second cousins, the mallards, normally max out at about 45 in level flight.

Besides being speedsters in the air, mergansers are also very adept at night flight, and in fact do most of their migration flying at night.

Resident in just about every state, mergansers are well adapted and while many overwinter in protected bays and inlets that don't completely freeze over, they only move south as far as they need to escape ice-covered lakes.

With a distinctive running style on the water surface that resembles western grebes, these "fish ducks" are entertaining indeed.

Lately, there have been a number of mergansers in and around the breakwater at Nahcotta and around the boat ramp at Cape Disappointment.

Loomis Lake now has some migrating mergansers for you to scope out, and just the other day there were a number of them on the Columbia, just east of the bridge.

Grab you camera and telephoto lens, (they're pretty flighty) and your binocs and have a go at finding some mergansers. They are extremely interesting critters to log in your bird book.

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Craig Sparks is director of NAWA, a filmmaker, freelance writer and wildlife rehabilitator.

Found injured wildlife? Questions? Call the Wildlife Center at 503-338-3954 or send an e-mail to

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