I did the loop around Lake Takanassee as something of an afterthought on my way home from the bird observatory this afternoon. I wasn't expecting anything new; hoping for a couple Canvasbacks maybe, or just a closer look at the couple Ring-Neck Ducks that are in the big lake since their more secluded spot is frozen over.
I'd finished sorting through the Coot, and the Canada Geese, the couple Brant and the sweet Wigeon, ready to drive away when a lone Hooded Merganser on the far side of the lake caught my eye. Mainly it was the Great Black-Backed Gulls harassing the Hoodie that got my attention. I'd read about this behavior in those big burly gulls, but had never witnessed it myself.
I didn't know what I was seeing and misinterpreted it, of course. The gulls repeatedly lifted the Hoodie out of the water, as if to fly away with it for lunch, but then dropped it back in a splash. Horrible mean gulls! The Hoodie kept diving under the water to escape, only to be taken aloft again. Poor thing! At this point I was out of the car, finally remembering my camera and with murder in my heart.
It wasn't until I got home and enlarged my pics, that I figured out what I'd really seen. The gulls were scared off by something... me maybe... and the Hoodie swam close to shore to rearrange its hard won prize. What I'd imagined to be a mouthful of fishing wire and hooks or some such other horrible death for this duck, was instead a crayfish, I think.
That he had no intention of sharing with any gull.
Click on this pic to enlarge... it's hilarious!
Looking at these pics, I'm reminded of those I've seen of GB Herons and their ministrations when *handling* prey items that are a bit too big for them. But Hooded Mergansers? Who knew? See how he's stretching out his neck to let it slide down?
This whole time, of course, I was convinced that my favorite duck in the world was choking and dying mere yards away.
Hoodies can smile with their crests, I think. Can you see the relief on his face?
Once home I read that crayfish are a favored food for these ducks and that they have a special gizzard-type thing, like chickens I guess, to process the hard shells of crustaceans.
Something else I read said that they only eat the claws of crayfish, like us with their bigger cousins, but I have no idea how he actually managed to get that thing down his throat, if he had to shake away the body first, before swallowing the sweet bits.
Birds. Always something new to learn.