Outdoors: The river of the Saw Beaks

Jul 2, 2020

The Little Betsie River connects the two lakes at Interlochen. Then the Betsie River flows from Green Lake to Lake Michigan.

They were named for a duck: a merganser.

Early maps of Lake Michigan bear names given by the French. They called the Betsie "la Reviere du Bec-Scie," or "the River of the Saw Beaks."

The French called mergansers “saw beaks” because of the serrations on the ducks’ narrow  bills. These sawtooth edges aid the birds in capturing and holding onto the slippery fish that make up the bulk of their diet.

The red-breasted mergansers at Interlochen seem to have Covid hair. The males have a messy green crests,  while the females sport reddish feathers in sort of a ragged flips.

Observers at Interlochen can understand why the females look a bit unkempt. Hen mergansers often swim by the campus with as many as twenty ducklings trailing behind.

A typical hen lays between five and eleven eggs, but other female mergansers dump eggs. They lay a few extra in a neighbor’s nest. 

Sometimes, one female  just combines several broods and takes care of them all.

Mergansers are justifiably maligned as carriers of swimmers itch, but these birds are the namesakes of the Little Betsie River, the Betsie River, Point Betsie, Benzonia, and Benzie County.