Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Nature of Easton: Common Merganser Couple Spotted Along Bushkill Creek

A pair of common mergansers sighted on the Bushkill Creek just off of Pearl Street in the City of Easton Tuesday afternoon.
 Ducks, particularly mallards, are seen every day along Easton's numerous waterways, but this pair sighted along the Bushkill Creek off of Pearl Street yesterday is likely a bit less common in the immediate area than their name suggests.

The "common merganser" is a large tree-dwelling duck that makes usually its nests in tree cavities, though it also will sometimes will choose a cliff crevice, chimney, old building, or a nest box in which to make its home. They also occasionally occupy abandoned hawk nests.

The attractive birds, which feature a serrated bill, generally dine on fish, along with mphibians, crustaceans, mollusks and other invertebrates, which they catch by diving  underwater. They prefer crystal clear waters, both fresh and salt water, presumably because it's easier to see their prey.

While native to North America, common mergansers are also found in Europe, where they are called goosanders.

The ducks pair off in late winter, and pairings may last for one season or for a number of years. They mate seasonally, with eggs being laid in May and June. Females typically lay 9 to 12 eggs.

It's uncertain whether the pair pictured is breeding locally or just passing through, as the birds do migrate. Their expected breeding area is listed as being north of Easton, with the southernmost section lying in Monroe County.

Still, the area of the Bushkill where they were sighted fits just about all the criteria for their preferred habitat, so the possibility of seeing the handsome couple with children in coming weeks seems likely, if they decide to stick around.

If they do, their ducklings will likely be seen over the summer in the same area. The young birds will accompany their mother to the feeding site within a week or so of being hatched and will be able to swim and feed on their own nearly immediately, though at first they will take their food from the water's surface instead of diving.

A little more than a week later, after mastering those skills, they will learn to dive as well.

Their mother will abandon them before they learn to fly, about a month or two after their birth. At that point, they may join other young common mergansers and form their own group, before they mature enough to reproduce themselves, usually at about two years of age.

The common merganser often lives about 13 years or more in the wild and has few natural predators. It ranges in size from about 21 to 28 inches long, and has a wingspan of about 33 to 34 inches.

After hatching, young birds follow their mothers to feeding sites. Young can swim and feed easily as soon as they leave the nest, although for the first few days most food is taken from the surface of the water. Within about 8 days, the young are skilled divers. Mothers abandon their young before they learn to fly, usually 30 to 50 days after hatching. Young mergansers join other young after being abandoned; mixed broods of more than 40 young have been observed.

Information for this article was gathered from the following web resources:

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