SOME FACTS ABOUT THE MERGANSER
A few facts I have learned recently about the Merganser: the Merganser is unique among the ducks, in that it is that species' biggest asshole.
Generally speaking, ducks represent to humanity some kind of accessible peace; not that of the dove, which is deific, heaven-borne, perfect, pure. Like water off a duck's back: this phrase we apply to those situations in which working stiffs find themselves. Endlessly. And yet they do not complain. Feeding the ducks is an activity old people commit in the confines of the city. It is something they do instead of robbing people in small, elderly gangs. It keeps them out of trouble, and it's a good use for day-old bread. The care of ducks is a peaceful endeavor.
Yet the Merganser is unique among the ducks. Mergansers divide themselves into gender categories like peacocks. The males have pretty, green heads, sparkly white scapulars, and change every fall. They are attractive, and preen in still pools. Females wear a reddish brown or a sedate cool grey, in all seasons. They conduct themselves calmly, and in a business-like manner. Most of them are fucking their secretaries.
The Common Merganser's genus -- Mergus -- also the Latin root of mergatroid, a space deity frequently called upon by people concerned with taking the Earth lord's name in vain, means diver. And diver has two definitions: one is "a water bird noted for its underwater swimming skills," and the other is "a person trained to work underwater: a sports person," perhaps "a seeker". A hunter.
Birds don't often sleep, which we should not trust. A thing that does not sleep is probably very tired, and apt to overreact. Flying must take a lot of energy, and a lot of concentration. And swimming! After an hour in the pool, I can barely stand. Additionally, birds are covered in feathers. A thing that outfits itself in feathers, willingly or not, is striving for fancy. It wants attention. It is willing to act out.
Most birds can fly, and all birds have feathers. It is a rare bird that could fly, but probably would prefer to swim, thank you very much. And that bird is the Merganser.
Instead of heavy jaws with teeth, modern birds have toothless, lightweight jaws, called beaks or bills. Unlike humans or other mammals, birds can move their upper jaws independently of the rest of their heads. This helps them to open their mouths extremely wide. Beaks occur in a wide range of shapes and sizes, depending on the type of food a bird eats. If a human were capable of moving its jaws independently, the fork would never have been invented. It would have been unnecessary. We would be able to eat anything large we wanted: the back flank of a standing buffalo. An elephant, even. Probably, however, we would have chosen not to. I cannot speak for the Merganser.
Most birds cannot store large reserves of food internally, because the extra weight would prevent them from flying. Instead, they are forced to eat what is nearby on an almost constant, ongoing basis.
A lot of the birds these days are _self to eat nectar, seeds, leftovers. But not the Merganser. The Merganser is a duck that eats other animals. In fact, it enjoys eating other animals. If you had ever seen one at a meal, you would know what I mean. Most will dine on an occasional fish or two, some will hunger for a sea otter or manta ray, but more than one Merganser has turned on the younger pets of vacationers.
Eighteen inches long, with a 37-inch wingspan, the Common Merganser sports a long, pointed bill with serrated edges. It is red, and thick at its base, tapering toward the tip. Like two bloodied, well-proportioned, steak knives.
All of which, when combined, means that the Merganser is one of the only birds with both the means, and the motive, to turn on our compadre, our amigo, the duck hunter.
A sleepless, feathered weapon: a beguiling, scientific marvel. A symbol of calm, peace attained, the shiny veneer of unrelenting terror. That is what I know about the Merganser.
Consider yourselves warned.
Anne Elizabeth Moore is author of most recently THE2NDHAND's very own issue 18, PIE. Check it out. She lives and writes in Chicago.