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A diving duck from a frozen lake

Chuck Hagner

It’s not every day that you look out the living-room windows of a house in suburban Milwaukee and see a Red-breasted Merganser waddling down the sidewalk. Yet last March, as the Polar Vortex tightened its grip on the country, that’s just what I did.

We had been doing lots of shoveling, so snow was heaped up along the sidewalk. Consequently, I couldn’t see more than a dark green head, a shaggy crest, and a slender red bill as the duck wobbled by, but that was enough. I knew what he was and, more important, that he was probably starving.

As you can read in “Frozen,” Sheryl DeVore’s fascinating article on page 16, most Red-breasted Mergansers while away the winter months fishing along the Pacific or Atlantic coast, or make their way to the warm Gulf coast, but some, perhaps of a more risk-taking frame of mind, choose to ride out the season on the Great Lakes. As long as ice doesn’t keep the birds from finding food, Sheryl reports, they do just fine.

But last winter, only small areas of Lake Michigan and Lake Ontario remained ice-free, forcing diving ducks to search for open water in all sorts of strange places — even on my street.

I did what I’m sure you would have done: I grabbed a bath towel, found a box, and ran outside. After a comic chase through deep snow and some fumbling in a neighbor’s driveway, I carefully bundled up the bird, took a long look into his wild red eye, and then delivered him to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at the Wisconsin Humane Society, where he was nursed back to health in the company of dozens of other ice-bound ducks.

About three weeks later, I learned that my story, like Sheryl’s, would have a happy ending. The merganser was successfully released back into the wild. I even got to watch a video of his release.

Chuck Hagner, editor
chagner@madavor.com

See the contents of our February 2015 issue.