Friday, July 22, 2011

Creature Feature: Hooded Merganser.

"I want a new duck. 
One that won't try to bite 
One that won't chew a hole in my socks 
One that won't quack all night..." -Weird Al Yankovic, "I Want a New Duck."

Ducks do not get nearly enough love. Sure, when they're cute and fluffy little ducklings, it's all good.After they grow up and get either brown or white feathers, the 'cute' switch turns off in most people. The "pate, Chinese food, whatever shall I do with you?" switch takes over. Sure, as adults, most ducks look pretty bland, but one group stands out by looking like punks at full size:

Mergansers all look pretty funky, but the Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) stands out by being the most striking and popular. It is native to the northern U.S. and Canada, but has taken off in the U.K. as well. They are not yet naturalized, but getting there as more and more escape from gardens into the wild.
Hooded Mergansers are beautiful. The males have the striking, white-splotched hood that gives the species its name. Their yellow eyes stare straight into your soul. For once, I will not be ranting about how crappy the females look; they're still the Lady Gagas of the duck world.

Mergansers also beat the other ducks at being hardcore by eating fish. Other ducks eat water plants or whatever junk food the humans happen to toss in, but that is not how mergansers roll. A merganser dives down and, using its keen (and waterproof!) eyesight, snags a fish for breakfast. Merganser chicks can dive for their own food within 24 hours of hatching, making them more badass from birth than most mammal babies. To hell with your breadcrumbs - mergansers make like cormorants and snag fish with their toothy bills.

Wait. Wait. Toothy bills?

Different kind of merganser. Same terrifying toothy bill from the Mesozoic.

Except for the 'egg teeth' birds and reptiles have, mergansers sport the closest thing modern birds have to teeth. Mergansers have serrated bills to hold on to those slippery fish. This has given mergansers and their relatives the name "sawbills." As if this duck could not get anymore extreme.

(P.S. If you just pictured a duck wielding a chainsaw and/or on a motorbike yelling "EXXTTREEEME!", please donate to my tip jar. :) ) 

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