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Saving China's endangered duck with funny hair

By LIU MINGTAI, ZHANG YU and RANDY WRIGHT |  China Daily | Updated: 2019-06-21 10:28

Piao Zhengji, an expert at Changbaishan National Nature Reserve. [Photo provided to China Daily]

But for him, the main attraction is the merganser's family relationships, which he likens to those of humans.

He's still amused every time he sees a mother merganser leading her daisy chain of puff-ball babies from the nest for the first time. She speeds through the water with them, sometimes with a bold chick or two hitching a ride on her back.

Nature maintains command as they grow. With lightning reflexes, adult mergansers can invert their bodies and dive for fish, staying underwater as long as 30 seconds.

The size of the fish they bring up can be eye-popping, but that doesn't seem to matter. The ducks gag down whatever hard-won catch they happen to get, in a way that's no model of table manners. But who's watching on the river?


Huddling concealed one day in the nature reserve, Piao stared upward at the opening of a nest, hoping to witness young chicks' extraordinary first leap. Some of these first-time base jumpers hesitated for a brief moment at the precipice, but nature had programmed them to jump, and jump they did.

Piao froze. On the ground not far away was a snake, probably looking for lunch. As the baby birds launched into the air, oblivious to the danger, their alarmed mother intervened in a flurry of motion and guided them all to safety.

"We are alike when it comes to family, right?" Piao said. "How great a mother's love is."

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