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New PDF release: A Wild Neighborhood

By John Henricksson

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With its swim bladder slightly deflated, it stays offshore, out from the merganser fleet, its head barely visible above the water and its bill angled upward like a periscope. When it zeros in on the group of merganser chicks feeding in the rocks near shore, it submerges, kicks forward, and speeds underwater toward its target. It grabs a chick's feet and holds it down until it drowns. Not a very neighborly thing to do, but protecting its food supply is critical, and the laws of the wild are immutable.

Like all carnivorous predators it is a killing machine. Its great speed underwater and deep dives of one hun- 24 FIRST C I T I Z E N OF MINNESOTA dred feet or more make it a super-efficient hunter of fish and crustaceans. It has another habit that may be a little disturbing to its worshipers: it has been observed drowning merganser chicks. The common merganser, a fish-eating, diving duck, hatches a clutch of nine to twelve chicks in late May. Some seem to be day-care providers and will adopt other chicks.

The marten watches all this busyness, flattened on a branch or hidden in a cluster of needles. It seems to be measuring distances and checking escape routes until it is ready to make its move. When it breaks from cover, the red squirrel is already a statistic—well, not always. Little Red has some nifty moves of its own. It makes right angle turns at top speed, spirals like a curling vine around long branches, and sometimes, in a panic, makes a free-fall leap into space. From heights of sixty feet or more, this is often a fatal maneuver, but occasionally the squirrel will get a claw into something on the way down, swing itself onto all fours, and streak off, leaving a string of curses trailing in the air.

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