I thought she was wounded.
A female Common Merganser floated in a posture I’d not noticed before. A male was with her, swimming broad circles around her prone body. Was she injured? I grabbed my spotting scope to find out.
I watched as she floated, nearly motionless, elongated as though playing dead man’s float.
But she wasn’t wounded. Au contraire… the lady merganser was performing her instinctual come-hither routine, signaling her availability to the courtly gent at her side. I turned on the camera, of course.
Here’s that video—one of three I’m including in today’s post. The video quality is a bit dodgy, because these birds are tiny, and they were floating just out of my zoom range. Even so, I think you’ll find it interesting.
Did you notice the male’s repeated bill dipping? It looks like a nervous tic, but it’s the merganser’s signal of interest. Sometimes, the female initiates the whole routine with the same gesture. Speaking of gestures, I’m sure you noticed their coupling pirouette and his grasp on her crest feathers.
Next, there’s the Red-breasted Merganser. These birds travel—and flirt—in large groups, the prelude to seasonal match-making. I’m giving them the prize for the most animated courtship routine, which includes their signature curtsy. That’s what ornithologists call the ducks’ entertaining pay-attention-to-me gesture.
Armed with my zoom lens, I’ve been lucky to see not only the flirting but also the ballet that follows when a girl decides to make herself available to one of the fellas.
In this video, you’ll see a group of animated flirters, followed by some footage of a couple that broke from the group some hours later.
An artist friend recently pointed out these ducks’ art-deco look. That’s a perfect description! And, did you notice their paddle de deux? The female’s availability signal is subtler than her Common Merganser cousin, but when she’s ready, she elongates her body and does some bill-dipping. You might also have noticed that her usual unruly crest is slicked back because she’s wet. I noticed she dived a few times during the mating prelude, which lasted about fifteen minutes. As for him, I’d say he was pretty fidgety, poking and preening his feathers as he made his lengthy approach. That’s classic Red-breasted Merganser courtship behavior. And how about that thank-you curtsy!!
I caught a third duck pairing on film. Not Mallards or Wood Ducks (too shy!). This is a pair of Goldeneyes. I missed most of the female’s readiness routine, and again the video is not optimal. But as you’ll see, their coupling is umm…fascinating. Take a look:Did you see him wag his foot early on? That’s part of the pre-pairing routine. Her body posture is calm, but not as elongated as the other females. You’ll probably agree with me that this fellow’s style is more aggressive than his cousins. Good thing these are diving ducks, and she’s accustomed to holding her breath!
So, three ducks. Three courtship styles. And sights I never imagined I’d see out my window. Do let me know what you think!