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Common merganser ducklings follow Mama in late June on Lake Bemidji. Photo by Brent Cizek.

Photographer's image of ducklings on Lake Bemidji goes viral, draws national attention

BEMIDJI, Minn.—Brent Cizek was going to head out early Wednesday, July 25, to snap photos of the merganser ducklings he's been following.

Only he couldn't—his inbox was too full.

Cizek's image of a female Common Merganser followed by more than 50 ducklings in late June on Lake Bemidji has gone viral. First, it was picked up by the National Audubon Society after he posted the images to social media. On Tuesday, the venerable New York Times ran a story on the photo.

"I had a ridiculous amount of emails for requests, and it is nuts," Cizek said on Wednesday. "It's been nonstop all day long—'Today Show,' 'CBS Morning News,' just a whole bunch."

The viral photo actually shows a less impressive feat for "Mama," which is what the Common Merganser female has been nicknamed. Cizek has since spotted her with 76 ducklings trailing her.

The morning Cizek captured the photo on Lake Bemidji, the water was choppy, he said. He was out in his small plastic boat, which has about enough room for only him and his camera, which he normally puts on a gimbal tripod head.

"I couldn't use (the gimbal) because it was impossible so I was trying to handhold, and even then, it was ridiculous," Cizek said.

He told the New York Times it was the only image that turned out after shooting that day near the Nymore Public Boat Access. He's since returned often for plenty more images of Mama and her little followers.

Cizek is a hobby photographer in Bemidji and has been focusing on wildlife photography for roughly the past two years.

Why so many ducklings?

Kenn Kaufman, field editor for the National Audubon Society, said that big brood counts of 50, which is certainly on the high end, are actually pretty common. Female ducks lay about a dozen eggs and often lay eggs in the nests of other ducks. However, Kaufman said they can only incubate about 20 eggs.

In the case of Cizek's photo and spotting 76 ducklings, Mama likely picked up the several dozen ducklings after they were separated from their own mothers, according to the Audubon Society.

"Adult ducks can't tell which birds are theirs, and lost young birds that have already imprinted on their own mothers will instinctively start following another Common Merganser because she looks like mom," the Audubon Society wrote in the article on Cizek's photo.

Jillian Gandsey

Jillian Gandsey is the Multimedia Editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. She is an Iron Range native and a 2013 graduate of Bemidji State University. Follow Jillian on Twitter and Instagram @jilliangandsey. Contact her at 218-333-9786, 218-996-1216 or at jgandsey@bemidjipioneer.com. 

(218) 333-9786
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