Even the ducks….

Today, it is finally above freezing, the sky is snow-free, and it looks like it will stay that way. My heart is doing a happy dance!

However, the ducks who winter on Lake Michigan are not dancing, or even waddling much these days. Even the wild punk rocker of ducks, the red-breasted merganser, has succumbed to the frigid winter.

red breasted merganser by peter massas cc by sa 20

Photo by Peter Massas – Creative Commons License – CC BY-SA 2.0

Odd as it may seem, red-breasted mergansers and white-winged scoter ducks fly south every winter, from their homes in Alaska and Canada to the cold and snowy southwestern shore of Lake Michigan. This is their version of Florida, their sunny winter home. But this year it was not so sunny. This was our fourth coldest and third snowiest winter ever in recorded history. Red-breasted mergansers are built for cold weather; their beaks are even longer than their Mohawk hairdos. Their beaks are like ice picks, and under normal circumstances they can poke through thin ice and dive for small fish. But this year, the ice is too thick and the ducks have been starving.  White-winged scoters, normally one of the lake’s largest ducks, have been stricken as well.

Public Domain Photo : U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - National Digital Library<br />http://digitalmedia.fws.gov/cdm/singleitem/collection/natdiglib/id/9/rec/1

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – National Digital Library – Public Domain Photo

By the time human residents ventured to the frozen lake and noticed the struggling birds, it was too late. Some very optimistic folks threw fish to the ducks, hoping they would feed. But for most, it was too late. They couldn’t rebuild their all-important fat reserves. They were too thin, too weak and too cold. Now they are being found on the surface of the icy lake, lifeless.

I am beginning to feel lucky–or should I say blessed–that I made it to the other side of this awful, frigid winter.

Perhaps because of my more-than-adequate fat reserves….

For more information:

Chicago Tribune: Ice on Lake Michigan proving fatal to waterfowl

CBS Chicago: The four worst winters ever