Lake Bemidji Ducklings
Brent Cizek went out on the water of Lake Bemidji in Bemidji, Minnesota, intending to get a feel for the lake before setting up to take pictures. Taking with him only one camera and one lens, he expected to maybe, if he was lucky, see something interesting. Little did he know just how interesting that something would turn out to be! (1)
Speaking about taking his boat out on to a choppy Lake Bemidji he says ‘Well, it wasn’t the greatest idea as it was quite windy that day and the waves were tossing my boat around in any direction that it wanted to.’ Cizek said in an interview ‘I decided to carry on, knowing that it wasn’t likely that I would see anything, much less be able to take a photograph with the choppy water.’ (2)
Snapshots of Ducklings
It was with that mindset that Cizek happened to see one duck, followed by a trail of ducklings. Reaching for his binoculars to get a closer look, he began snapping away. ‘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 says. Luckily for him, and us, he managed to get one brilliantly clear photograph of the extraordinary family. The National Audubon Society quickly picked up the story and his photos and it went viral from there. (3, 4)
‘It kind of compels you just to look and wonder: How?’ Cizek said. ‘How did this happen? How is this mom taking care of all of these ducklings? She just looks really proud and stoic in the photo.’ (1)
Guessing that there were around 50 ducklings, he was shocked when he took another trip back to the lake. ‘I was able to then count 76 babies with her, so she had picked up more babies along the way,’ he says. ‘It’s been remarkable. It’s going to be a sad day when they continue their migration.’ (2)
Why So Many Ducklings?
While it’s very unlikely that all of the ducklings hatched from Mama Merganser’s eggs (in fact, impossible really) it’s not that uncommon for mergansers to have broods that large. They usually only lay up to 13 eggs at a time, but the interesting thing is, they don’t always lay them all in their own nests. Talk about not putting all your eggs in one basket! Mergansers do just that; they lay their eggs in other ducks’ nests to try to ensure that at least some of their offspring survive, no matter what happens. (6)
Another possible option for why Mama Merganser had so many babies dutifully following her is some kind of ducky daycare. Separated ducklings will often attach themselves to ducks that look like their mothers, and that could be the case here. Adult ducks can’t tell the difference between their babies and others, and ducklings imprint on their mother and so find someone they think is their mother duck. (6)
Who knows though, whatever the reason for this fantastical family, maybe some of her six dozen babies will come back and carry on the tradition, adopting everyone they meet. If you live near Lake Bemidji keep an eye out for the next Mama Merganser and your photograph might be the next to go viral!