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Common Merganser with adorable young!

This small family of Common Mergansers -- a hen with her eight ducklings -- was photographed by Mike Hamilton near Seattle. This duck species nests in tree cavities resulting from broken limbs or excavated by woodpeckers. The female alone incubates the eggs, which hatch in about a month. The precocial ducklings jump from the cavity at only one or two days of age and feed themselves.

This family may look big but it's actually on the small side. Broods usually include 9 to 12 young, although it's hard to count because female Common Mergansers often lay eggs in cavities occupied by other females -- called "egg dumping." A female protects her young flock, the size of which can grow as neighboring broods join. After two months, the young will be able to fly. Most Common Mergansers shift south for the winter, where they are most frequently found on fresh water.

The long, serrated bills of mergansers - helpful to grasp slippery fish - earned them the colloquial name "sawbill."

A few days later and a little bit bigger!


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