What may at first appear to be total mallard-ky quickly became a viral sensation when a wildlife photographer snapped a photograph of a mother duck with 76 ducklings trailing behind her.
MAMA MERGANSER! I was able to track down the now famous Lake Bemidji Common Merganser that has an adopted brood of over 76 babies! I love the story that these photos tell.
— Brent Cizek (@brentcizekphoto) July 17, 2018
It may seem like a tall tail, but it’s real. The photograph went viral on July 16, 2018, when wildlife photographer Brent Cizek shared a picture to Twitter that claimed to show a mother merganser hen with her “adopted brood” of over 76 ducklings neatly in a line as the birds swam across Minnesota’s Lake Bemidji.
But while the picture in question was real, we have rated this claim as “Outdated” due to the fact that it’s is from 2018.
But how did the doting mother acquire such a fleet of ducklings? According to an article published by the National Audubon Society at the time, the hen acquired the ducklings from many broods on the lake to form the group, which is called a crèche. And according to the publication’s field editor, Kenn Kaufman, such big broods are not all that uncommon in part because ducks often lay their eggs in the nests of other ducks. In some cases, a female duck will also lay her eggs in the nest of others even if she has her own place to lay.
It’s not exactly clear why birds do this, but Kaufman said that it could serve as a way to ensure the likelihood of successful offspring if, for example, a predator destroyed the eggs of one nest — those eggs placed in another nest could still pass on their parents’ genetic material.
“This behavior doesn’t completely explain Cizek’s photograph, though, because there is a limit to how many eggs one duck can successfully incubate. Female ducks lay about a dozen eggs and can incubate as many as 20. More than that, and the birds can’t keep all the eggs warm,” wrote the conservation group.
“The merganser in this picture probably picked up several dozen ducklings that got separated from their mothers. Adult ducks can’t tell which birds are theirs, and lost young birds that have already imprinted on their own mothers will instinctively start following another common merganser because she looks like mom.”
In a comment posted on May 27, 2019, Cizek said that to his knowledge, all of the ducklings survived the spring before migrating south for the winter. Egg-cellent parenting multitasking, if you ask us.