2017 – 3 Common Merganser

Teeth, that’s what these birds are all about. We have no notion of this when watching a pair swim by in the marina, but check out the toothy smile on these critters. Birds, of course, don’t have teeth! Instead, the bill has been modified to really look as if they have very formidable teeth. It’s a good example of Evolution. Without this toothy modification, they’d hang onto fewer fish – and would have probably failed as a species. With the ‘teeth’ – well, they’re fish-catching dynamos. And the teeth structure also helps drain water from their mouth as they come to the surface with a struggling fish. A PhD engineer couldn’t have done better.

Local common mergansers nest in rivers that drain into the Salish Sea, and in winter they simply move downstream to fish, usually in channels with swift currents where schools of fish also hang out. In spring, they return to their summer homes in the mountains to nest in tree cavities carved out by woodpeckers, usually overhanging the stream they make a living with. These ‘sawbills’ must be good at it, because nests usually have 6 to 17 eggs, indicating good nesting ability but possibly not so good results after the ‘kids’ leave home. 17 baby ducks – think about that one! These are one of my favorite Salish Sea birds, always seeming elegant, in control and emotionally above the nasty scrapping of gulls and crows. My kind of bird!


Larry Eifert paints and blogs about wild places at larryeifert.com. His art can be seen in many national parks across America.

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