Brent Cizek, an amateur wildlife photographer from Northern Minnesota, witnessed a remarkable motherhood moment during his trip to Lake Bemidji back in 2018.
While he went out on the lake, Brent spotted a massive brood on June 27, 2018 for which he counted at least 56 ducklings as he shared with Fox News. A few weeks later, he decided to return back on the lack to see if he could spot them again.
Surprisingly, the mama duck, a common merganser, had more ducklings trailing behind her than expected. Cizek was able to count 76 ducklings approximately.
“[I] couldn’t have asked for a better photo opportunity,” Brent told CBC Radio’s As It Happens. “The photo just makes you question, you know, how is this possible? How did it happen? How is the mom taking care of so many ducks?”
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 is not unusual to see many ducklings grouped around a hen. Female ducks can lay around a dozen eggs. “They can incubate as many as 20”, says Kenn Kaufman, field editor for the National Audubon Society. But rarely more than 20. “A female duck will have a nest of her own and also make her way over to another nest or two to drop off a few eggs” to increase their chances of survival.
For Richard O. Prum, an ornithologist at Yale University, the pictures captured by Brent Cizek with more than 70 ducklings training behind a single female duck is an extraordinary sighting.
“It’s impossible for this individual to have incubated, you know, 50 eggs,” he said to New York Times.“That is really too much.”
"It's hard not to look at her and say OK, you know this is pretty unbelievable. Multiple people are saying, you know, '…
So Why This Mama Merganser Has More Than 50 Ducklings?
The picture offers an extreme example of a common phenomenon in nature.
It’s called “The Crèche” system. A daycare system where some birds like ducks leave their young in the care of a “great grand-mother” duck who watches over them while adult ducks go off to molt their feathers.
“While the practice is common for this species”, David Rave, an area wildlife manager who oversees the Bemidji region for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said to New York Times, “the size of the crèche in the photo is exceptional”. “That’s a lot,” he said. “I’ve seen crèches up to 35 and 50 often, but 70 — that would be a very big crèche.”
“Everybody is really just amazed,” Brent told CBC Radio’s As It Happens. “Everybody keeps saying, ‘Mom of the Year.’”