NOTE: One day after writing the post below, about the hatch of eight Hooded Merganser chicks, we saw this morning 11 chicks with the merganser hen. I assume they hatched hours later than their siblings, exited the box on instinct, and somehow became united with the rest of the family.
The female Hooded Merganser nesting in one of our duck boxes was restless yesterday. She was out of the box and on the pond several times, drinking, bathing, idling. I didn't know the exact date she began incubation, so I could do no more than estimate hatch time. Yesterday seemed about right, and the hen's actions fit with that guess. I watched the box closely yesterday, hoping to photograph the hatchlings leaving the box. I resumed watch this morning, but was observing from our deck when I heard the first plop. The sound was made by the seventh of the eight ducklings that left the box to begin life on the water. I watched the last of the brood drop, but not through a camera lens. The merganser led her babies around the pond once, then took them back into the swamp water behind our pond. The ducklings swam more like water bugs than birds, and drank and bathed. They following their mother as if tied to her by string. The geese that hatched here picked up and left after a few days. We hope this brood stays here for longer than that. The first photo shows the hen as she returned to the nest box yesterday afternoon (Thursday). The second photo shows the family this morning minutes after the birds left the box.