National Geographic : 1915 Aug
AMERICAN MERGANSER (Mergus americanus). Range: Breeds from southern Alaska, southern Yukon, Great Slave Lake, central Keewatin, southern Ungava, and Newfoundland south to central Oregon, southern South Dakota, southern Minnesota, central Michigan, northern New York and northern New England; winters from Aleutian Islands, British Columbia, Idaho, northern Colorado, southern Wisconsin, southern Ontario, northern New England, and New Brunswick south to Lower California, northern Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. The narrow, serrated bill of the goosander as contrasted with the broad, smooth bills of most ducks would suggest to the merest tyro that its habits must differ widely from those of most of its kin. In fact, the goosander's bill, with its saw like teeth, is specially adapted to seizing and holding slippery prey of various kinds including small fish which, though not its sole food, constitute the most important part of it. Water insects, frogs, and crawfish, are by no means disdained. The goosander's long, narrow body eminently fits it for swift progress under water where it spends much of its time. Cold weather and ice have no terrors for it, and the bird may winter wherever open water is assured, provided only that food is abundant. Not many goosanders remain within our territory to breed, and these retire to the mountains where they find along the foaming mountain torrents the surroundings they prefer. The merganser follows the general custom among ducks and nests on the ground, but unlike many it nests also in hollows of trees. As it does not associate in large flocks and has learned to care well for its safety, the bird is holding its own very well. MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos). Range: Breeds from Pribilof Islands, northwestern Alaska, northern Mackenzie, central Keewatin, and Greenland south to Lower California, southern New Mexico, southern Kansas, central Missouri and southern Indiana; winters from Aleutian Islands, central Alaska, central Montana, Nebraska, southern Wisconsin, northern Indiana, Ohio, Maryland, south to Mexico, the Lesser Antilles, and Panama. This fine duck is monopolized by no one country nor even continent, but includes in its range both hemispheres. Its size, abundance, and excellent flavor make it perhaps the most important of its family, and its value to mankind is still further enhanced by the fact that it lends itself so readily to domestication that many of our domestic varieties are derived from it. Before the settlement of the West the ponds and sloughs swarmed with mallards, which nested there by thousands, and in fall and winter, as migrants and winter residents, covered the water courses to the south. To-day there is a very different story to tell. Many of the mallards' old breeding grounds are now farms, and the bird is now represented by a few hundreds where once there were myriads. The mallard is one of our most omnivorous ducks, and nothing in the way of mast, grain, or small animal life comes amiss. In the far West it has the habit, shared to the same extent by no other duck, of resorting to the stubble for waste grain, and the epicure need ask for nothing more delicious than a fat corn- or wheat-fed mallard. The domestication of this duck is easy, and the owners of estates with suitable ponds can render good service in the cause of wild-fowl preservation by raising mallards for liberation. RED-BREASTEDMERGANSER (Mergus serrator). Range: Breeds from Arcticcoast ofAlaska, northern Mackenzie, Cumberland Sound, and Greenland (lat. 730) south to southern British Columbia, southern Alberta, southern Minnesota,central Wisconsin, northern New York, and southern Maine; winters in southern Greenland, Commander Islands, and from southern British Columbia, Utah, Colorado, southern Wisconsin, southern Ontario, and Maine south to southern Lower California, Louisiana, and Florida. The red-breasted merganser isthe second of our mergansers insize, and while its habits in general correspond well with those ofthe larger goosander, they differ in some important respects. The red-breast, for instance, frequents salt water far more than itsrelative, though it,too, inhabits the interior lakes and ponds. It swims and dives with wonderful skill, and inclear, rapid moun tain streams, even the swiftand wary trout isnot safe from its prowess. This merganser used to breed rather commonly inNew England, and itstill nests in the northern parts, though indiminished numbers. Apparently itnever breeds in hollow trees but conceals its nest on the ground among rocks orbushes. Like its larger relative, this duck does not "flock," and the little parties offive or eight probably represent parents and young, which from motives of attachment or safety, keep together. Eaton ascribes to this merganser ahabit which would argue unusual intelligence and cooperative ability. He says, "These mergansers are often observed to hunt incompany, alarge flock sometimes advancing with wide, extended front, driving the fish before them and diving simultaneously, so that whichever way their prey may dart there isaserrated beak and capacious gullet ready to receive them." HOODED MERGANSER (Lophodytes cucullatus) (See page 126). BLACK DUCK (Anas rubripes). Range: Breeds from central Keewatin and northern Ungava south to northern Wisconsin, northern Indiana,and southern Maryland; winters from Nova Scotia south to southern Louisiana and Colorado; ranges west inmigration toNebraska and central Kansas. The black duck is essentially confined to the Eastern States, usually migrating no farther west than Kansas,and that rarely. Itisafavorite object ofpursuit by sportsmen, and in the struggle to maintain existence has learned its lesson so well that it is still comparatively numerous inlocalities where less wary species would long ago have been exterminated. Originally adiurnal-feeding species, like most ducks, persecution has taught the black duck to seek safety on the broad ocean during the hours of daylight, and to resort toinland ponds for the purpose of feeding only after sunset.Inorder toprotect this and other waterfowl one of the regulations under theFederal migratory bird law forbids shooting after sunset and before sunrise, and the enforcement ofthis regulation will probably do more for the preservationofthe black duck than any other provision that could be devised. That protection for this species issorely needed appears from the fact that throughout its range, except inafew localities, the black duck has of late years steadily diminished innumbers. The black duck is excellent eating, and as experiments prove that itcan be reared in captivity it may beraised for the market orbe freed for restocking suitable localities. The Florida black duck isaclosely allied species, with similar habits, and is resident in Florida and alongthe Gulf Coast.