As an avid birder, the depth and scope of my little “hobby” has deepened and widened over the years, and I also accumulated a few dozen or maybe several dozen bird carvings, bird paintings, bird clothing (especially fond of socks),binoculars, scopes and of course bird books. One of the latter is a tattered old and worn copy of Birds of Canada, published in 1945 and written by P.A. Taverner. It’s a great old book, that apparently used to belong to one George C. Riley whose name is scrawled on the inside cover. And now it belongs to me.
Every once in a while, I’ll refer to it, just for the shear pleasure of reading some of the descriptions of the birds, and the lovely interesting way that Mr. Taverner describes his subjects. Take the Common Merganser for an example:
Subfamily -Merginae. Mergansers. Fish Ducks. Saw-bills
“…Mergansers, except the Hooded, which is rather solitary, usually fly in long, single files or lengthened flocks approximating lines, rarely in irregular, indiscriminate bunches as do other ducks. They are seldom seen high in the air, but usually pass over the water low down and just above the surface….
Nesting. Mergansers in the breeding season are mostly river haunters, nesting either on the ground, among rocks, or in hollow trees….They are not very desirable as food, though some young autumn birds, properly cooked, are not to be altogether despised.”
His goes on to discuss all of the Mergansers, and how fishermen may be irritated with the bird that eats the fish being sought for the gentleman’s dinner. But no where did I find a description of the harried female who has her work cut out for her once the nestlings are out of the nest and learning how to swim and fish.
This mother spent hours every morning and evening in the last few weeks of June taking her brood out on the river. Over time they grew, a few disappeared, likely a tasty morsel for a pike or pickerel, and this morning, they were out in front of my place again..swimming in a loose flock, then suddenly all heads hit the water, and they proceeded to swim really fast, like little wind up toys with motors in high gear, scooping up whatever small minnow school had the unfortunate problem of being in the wrong place at the wrong time!
Throughout all of this duckling rearing, there is no sign of Dad, although occasionally I’ll see a small group of natty looking males in their striking black and white “tuxedos”. It is at that point that I think of the poor tattered mom, coping on her own and doing it all for the brood. Nature. Nurture. And Mothers. The Real Reality Show.