On May 9, a homeowner in Rockingham County saw a hawk flying over her backyard – with a duckling in its talons. The hawk dropped the young chick as it flew over the backyard and the homeowner was able to rescue the ducking. The bird was admitted to the Wildlife Center the following day.
The duckling was identified as a young Hooded Merganser, a water bird that breeds in forested wetlands. These diving ducks eat a variety of small fish, aquatic insects and vegetation, crustaceans, amphibians, and mollusks. The adults are easily identified with their dramatically “oversized” head; both males and females have crests that can be raised or lowered.
Despite this young merganser’s early trauma, the veterinary team didn’t find any injuries, and the young duckling was declared healthy. Wildlife rehabilitator Brie was ecstatic to care for a baby merganser; Brie is a well-known “bird nerd” among the staff, and this is her first merganser patient in her seven years working in the rehabilitation field.
The young duckling was placed in an incubator, then Brie started the process of duck match-making. It’s important for young wildlife to grow up with a sibling – even if that sibling is introduced! With some of the less common bird species admitted, wildlife rehabilitators often pair up babies of different species. In this case, Brie started off by pairing the merganser with a Mallard duckling, though mallards grow notoriously quickly, so Brie knew this wouldn’t be a good long-term match. In the past week, Brie found a Wood Duckling buddy [patient #18-0958] for the merganser; these two birds are not only good company for each other, but are also a better dietary match, with similar protein requirements.
The two ducklings have short swimming sessions several times a day. When they are older and larger, they’ll be moved to the Center’s aviary.