Most of us have heard the story of Mother Goose, but even she comes a few feathers short compared to this doting duck.
Images of a mother merganser, followed by 76 little ducklings, have been flying around the internet faster than you can say mallard. The photographs were taken by wildlife enthusiast Brent Cizek, the Smithsonian reports. Cizek spotted the ducks during a recent trip to Lake Bemidji, in Minnesota.
It’s clear this “Mama Merganser” is quite proud of her job, as not all the ducklings belong to her. On average, a duck like this would produce around a dozen eggs during a single gestational period. She’s sitting in for their parents in what Cizek believes is the waterfowl equivalent of a daycare.
Cizek hadn’t actually expected to find much worth shooting that day, he told the Audubon Society. With a single lens and looming clouds, it wasn’t panning out to be a great day for photography.
That’s when he spotted the ducks.
“I probably shot 50 pictures, and I was just praying that one was going to turn out sharp because the waves were so strong it was nearly impossible to even keep them in the frame,” Cizek said. “Luckily enough, just one picture turned out.”
It’s not uncommon that female mergansers will “adopt” ducklings that are not their own. It happened in Southeast Michigan when animal control officer Diane Desrosiers rescued 10 young ducklings on a busy highway, and brought them to a nearby golf course pond.
Seventy-six babies following a single mother make for an incredibly touching scene, but there may be more than just warmhearted motherhood at work. From an evolutionary standpoint, letting one’s ducklings wander from mother to mother may increase their chances of survival.
“One possibility would be, in a sense, not putting all their eggs in one basket,” said Audubon field editor Kenn Kaufman.
After Cizek’s first post was circulated, others near Lake Bemidji have reported seeing the ducks, as well. It won’t be long before the young ones are all grown up, and off on their own.
Hopefully, they keep in touch with their magnificent “mother.”
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.