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Darling ducks: A precious pair of scaly-sided mergansers have hatched!

Posted by Gigi Allianic, Communications

Scaly-sided merganser ducklings at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo
A precious pair of scaly-sided mergansers have hatched at Woodland Park Zoo. Also known as Chinese mergansers, this species of diving ducks is very rare in zoos and in the wild. This is the first time this type of duckling has hatched here, so experienced members of our animal care staff will be hand-rearing the pair.

Animal keeper Joanna Klass tells us that this is a very sensitive and endangered species, so it's no wonder we’re taking every precaution necessary to give these ducklings the best possible start in life. By hand-rearing the chicks, Joanna and her colleagues can make sure each duckling gets all the food it needs without having to compete with other larger adult birds that share our wetlands habitat. Once the ducklings grow to adult size and their juvenile feathers grow in, they'll be introduced to the other birds in the zoo’s Temperate Wetlands area.

These scaly-sided merganser ducklings are being hand-raised. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

These ducklings were hatched under the Scaly-sided Merganser Species Survival Plan, which is a cooperative, conservation breeding program across accredited zoos to help ensure a healthy, self-sustaining population of the species. There are approximately 77 individuals in the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ (AZA) population at only 13 AZA facilities.

Eventually, the ducklings will be paired up by the Species Survival Plan and sent to other AZA-accredited facilities. Woodland Park Zoo participates in 111 Species Survival Plans, overseen by AZA. Led by experts in husbandry, nutrition, veterinary care, behavior, and genetics, these plans also involve a variety of other collaborative conservation activities such as research, public education, reintroduction and field projects.

The feathers of an adult scaly-sided merganser show the scaly pattern that gives them their name. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

About scaly-sided mergansers
  • Scaly-sided mergansers are native to Eastern Asia, primarily Manchuria and southeastern Russia. They live in fast moving forest streams where they use their agility and eyesight to capture fish and other invertebrates. They're named for the scaly pattern on their flanks.
  • Three species of mergansers can be found in the Pacific Northwest: red-breasted, common and hooded.
  • These birds are excellent divers, with ducklings taking to the water within 48 hours after hatching. Their long, serrated bill helps them grab on to their prey.
  • Females nest in tree hollows that can be as high as 60 feet up. The ducklings will follow the female out of the nest within days of hatching, jumping out to meet their parents below. Their light, fluffy bodies allow them to bounce on the forest floor, and they’re up and running in no time!
Scaly-sided mergansers are endangered. With fewer than 5,000 remaining in the wild, their population is decreasing due to loss of habitat and food sources, illegal hunting, drowning in fishing nets, disturbance from boats during breeding season, pollution, and an emerging threat of high levels of heavy metals in parts of their range.