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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/52

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42
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

box nearly half full of sticks three or four inches long. As these sticks are carried in the birds' bills by the middle, they would naturally strike the hole crosswise and could not enter, so when the birds get near the box they turn sideways and poke the sticks in end first, following in and arranging them afterward.

The merganser is a fish duck nearly as large as our common domestic duck, and is known under the names of sheldrake and sawbill duck. The male is considerably larger than the female; he has a jet-black head, and the black extends down the neck for about two inches, where the color changes to a pure white, the line being as regular and distinct as the painting on the smokestack of a steamship. The body is generally white, with black markings on the wings and some black on the body; the breast is a beautiful salmon color when the bird is killed, but if mounted soon fades to a pure white. The male merganser in full plumage is one of our most beautiful birds.

The female, besides being smaller, is of a grayish color, and the plumage and general appearance are entirely unlike the male, so that the sex can be easily determined even at a long distance.

This bird is common on the Champlain and waters of the Adirondacks. Like all fish ducks, it has a long, sharp bill, which is serrated with sawtooth-shaped notches strongly suggesting teeth, a fact which has given this bird much interest to our evolutionary scientists.

I have noticed a habit of this bird that I believe is entirely unique, and one I am surprised that our authorities on birds have not mentioned—that is, that the males are entirely migratory and the females are not. After the lakes and still waters freeze the mergansers go to the rivers which are open in some places on the rapids all winter. For more than twenty years I have seen female mergansers on the Au Sable River all winter, and I have frequently seen them on the other Adirondack rivers; but I have never seen a male merganser in the winter, and in the late fall the males and females gather in separate flocks, and when the male mergansers appear in the spring they are always in flocks by themselves.

I think the merganser lives entirely on fish, and it is surprising to one who has made no observations on the subject to know what an enormous number of young fish a flock of these ducks will destroy in a season. I quote the following from my notebook: "October 13, 1882, killed fish duck (female merganser) in Slush Pond, and found in her throat and stomach one pickerel, four black bass, and eleven sun perch. Bob (my brother) present. October 18, 1882, killed same kind of duck on Lake Champlain, and took out of her sixty small perch. James R. Graves present."