My first post to the list. I usually like to keep a low profile, but the
story that unfolded before me this morning was so full of twists and turns
that I had to share it with other bird enthusiasts.
I will call the two ducklings Ruth and Edek, in homage to The Silver Sword
by Ian Serraillier.
Yesterday afternoon, while walking around Beebe Lake on Cornell campus, I
saw a handful of common merganser ducklings together with their parents
resting lazily on a branch in the afternoon sun. Great, I thought, since it
meant that I could return tomorrow morning and watch the ducklings jostle
to sit on the back of mama when they go out foraging, always an
The morning arrived, and I started walking around the lake. No sign of the
merganser family. Just when I was about to leave, I finally saw a lone
merganser duckling, with no signs of the rest of the family. Has it been
abandoned? Should I call a rehabiliator, or should I leave it be since it
is able to feed itself, and is too agile anyway? I left the lake feeling
I returned a few hours later. Again I saw a duckling, which henceforth I
shall name Edek, but this time playfully swimming near an adult female.
Great, I thought, that Edek has finally found its mum! However, it soon
became obvious that the female wasn't friendly, and what I had thought to
be playful swimming was in fact frantic attempts by Edek to escape. The
female finally caught up with Edek, lifted Edek with its beak, and started
violently thrashing Edek about. Realising what was happening before me,
instinctively I ran forward, causing the female to swim away. However, I
could no longer see any signs of Edek, so I assumed that Edek had perished.
With a heavy heart, I left the scene.
While crossing the small wooden bridge on the southern side of the lake, I
spotted a movement in the creek below. In a shadowy corner hid yet another
merganser duckling, which henceforth I shall name Ruth. Quietly, I stepped
back to avoid alerting Ruth to my presence. Minutes later, Ruth made a dash
for the lake. Oh how fast the little mite went, perhaps wary of dangers
lurking in the thick foliage on either side! Ruth didn't go very far
though, and stopped to preen on a branch at the mouth of the creek.
Soon, Ruth started calling. To my surprise, I heard a call back, from the
direction where I thought Edek had perished! This got Ruth excited, and it
started calling with increasing fervour. And lo! Edek soon came into view.
Unable to contain its excitement, Ruth hopped off the branch and swam
forward to join Edek. Reunited at last!
I've created an eBird checklist with screencaps of the actors involved.
Descriptions are in the photo comments. The first two are Edek trying to
scramble away from the adult female, the third Ruth sitting quietly in the
creek, the fourth Ruth returning call to Edek, the fifth Ruth and Edek at
the moment of reunion, and the sixth Ruth and Edek resting on a branch
Unlike The Silver Sword, the story of Ruth and Edek is not over yet, since
I am uncertain whether their parents will return given that I have not seen
any other female mergansers (except the hostile one) on the lake. What is
the usual recommendation for seemingly abandoned ducklings that are still
really small (such as those in the photos), but nonetheless able to forage
by themselves? Is it better to leave them be, or is rehabilitation
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