Walking through the marina, we spied three pairs of Hooded Mergansers, and since, for me, art mirrors life, this is a page for them. You see, they’re here for their annual winter romance and courting. This features that flashy pompadour which the little male spreads and fans while water-prancing around ‘sweetie.’ Whipped into a frenzy, he rears back, throwing beak and caution skyward. Sometimes it works – and by late spring the lovebirds find an old dead tree cavity up one of our rivers and together set up shop. The location is often not accidental, for the female has pre-scouted a possible nest the year before. I’m guessing it probably saves time and marital discussions. Up to a dozen eggs are soon laid (see, I told you the fan-thing works) and as the female sits down to nest-sit the male high-tails it for a summer with the guys eating fish and crustaceans along the rivers.
The female carries out all nesting duties. Within a day of hatching, the young clear out by jumping to the ground. Okay, but some nests are as high as 50 feet off the ground. I did some quick math for a less-than 2-inch flightless duckling jumping 50 feet to the ground and found it would be like me jumping out of a 140-story window (Seattle’s Columbia Tower is 78 stories). I had to check the math on that twice, but I think it’s right. After landing – and maybe not dying – survivors seem to know to head for the safety of water where they are immediately able to swim and find their own food. Mom watches out for them as best she can considering the size of the brood, but after a few weeks she just gives up and abandons the group before they can fly.
Larry Eifert paints and writes about wild places. His work is in many national parks across America – and at larryeifert.com.
(Not in the story, but this is the math)
Duckling might be 2” long, probably less
I’m 70” long so I’m 35 times longer as the duckling.
50 feet in the tree x 35 is 1750 feet.
Columbia Tower is 932’ to the 78th story top floor, which means each story is 12 feet high.
1750’ divided by 12’ is 146 stories.