Posts Tagged: baby loons

Loon Fight For Territory

Today was another beautiful day to get out to check on the loons. I headed to the pond where the chicks had yet to hatch when I visited Friday. This is the westernmost pond that I’ve been watching, so these birds are the ‘Westons.’

There was a single loon floating by itself near the boat launch, and a long way from the nest. This is the pond that has had intruders challenging the home team for the territory this spring.

A ways down the pond, I found the home team lazily foraging with two chicks.

Out newest loons, one chick riding, the other is tucked under the far wing.
One of the parents attempting to deliver a 10 ounce fish to the three ounce chicks. The fish was uncooperative and the loon dropped it. The loon reached underwater for it, not sure if it caught it or if it was the fish’s lucky day.

Our family drifted out towards the middle of the pond when things got exciting.

The intruding loon surfaced right next to the parent babysitting the chicks and went for them. Loons intent on taking over a territory will try to kill any chicks. Without chicks, the holders of the territory have less to fight for. The loon doing the penguin dance is the home team male, with the intruder in front of him. After the skirmish, the home team loon returned to the family, then turned and yodeled at the intruder hiding at the far end of the pond. Only male loons yodel, so this was most likely a fight between our male and another male who wishes to take over his territory.
The male from the home team rearing up to try to scare the intruder.
The chase is on! The intruder retreats, with our male in hot pursuit. Loons in a heated territory dispute will ‘wing row’ (‘wing oar’ to our friends across the pond) across the water. If the pursuing loon can catch up, they will fight by hitting each other with their wings or their beaks. Fights go until one retreats or gets killed.
“When you strike at a king, you must kill him” – or face the consequences. The intruder tries to get away.
The fight continued up and down the pond.
Coming back for another lap….
Our male gains ground….
Loons wing rowing turn by dipping one wing into the water, the pursuing loon usually matches the move. With the spray, it can be hard to tell what’s going on.
And stay out! After chasing the intruder into the brush at the far end of the pond, our male returned to his mate and chicks. He spent several minutes yodeling in the direction of the intruder and pretty much any critter that moved around the pond. The intruder has retreated, but not left the pond. The fight may not be over.

Loon Chicks Have Hatched

The strong winds over the weekend kept me home – pacing wondering how the loon chicks were doing. This morning, the wind was calm, and when I got to the pond, it was fully five degrees above having to worry about breaking ice while kayaking. I was able to check on two loon families.

First, our bluebirds are back for a second clutch. I’m not going to post daily updates for them this round, just too many things going to keep up with them.


If you’d like to see loons, take a look at the Loon Preservation Committee’s site, they host paddling trips where you visit lakes where they know there are loons with one of their biologists.

All the loon photos are taken with long telephoto lenses and cropped to let me shoot without disturbing the birds.
When I arrived on the pond, I found one adult preening and lazily foraging by itself and couldn’t see anyone on the nest. As I paddled down the pond, I found the second adult still on the nest. But the chicks should have hatched already….

After watching a few minutes, a chick appeared from under a wing….. A little later the second one peek out.

While waiting for the family to leave the nest, the second adult appeared to be hunting ducklings. The loon flattened out like there was a threat , it swam along the brush where a pair of duck families were hiding. The loon would poke into the brush and look around. The mother ducks were not happy.

With the chicks still in the nest, the odds are that one hatched Saturday and the other Sunday. Loons will leave the nest shortly after the second chick hatches. If it is late in the day, they may spend the night on the nest before heading out. The adult on this pond waited for the sun to get almost to the nest before heading out with the chicks.

The adult that had been sitting with the chicks has left the nest and the chicks are getting ready to go.

Loon chicks are voracious. I’ve seen estimates that say a loon family will eat 500 pounds of fish, crayfish and other protein in a season.
The first order of business is to feed the chicks. Both parents will spend many hours feeding the chicks throughout the summer.
The chicks quickly picked up on the way feeding works.

I’m not sure what the parent is offering here. It could be a small crayfish or an insect nymph. Either way, the chicks seemed skeptical. The parent had to present it a few times before a chick took it.

One chick worked up the nerve to try the offering, but promptly dropped it.

The second chick finally took the offering and ate it.


The two chicks on the surface while the parents dive to forage.
One of the parents has just surfaced behind the chicks.

Another delivery of fish as the second parent looks on.
The second adult actually had another meal waiting just below the surface.
The chick settled down and dealt with one feeding at at time.
The loons on this pond last year were partial to feeding crayfish to the chicks. I’m curious if there was an abundant supply of crayfish, a shortage of fish or the parents just had a preference. One of the parents soon presented a crayfish.
The crayfish proved too large for the first chick to handle. The parent tried to give it to the second chick. The second chick couldn’t handle it either and the parent ate the crayfish.
I was able to stop at a second pond before heading home. The loons there had also hatched two chicks. They look to be just a couple days old.
These chicks have mastered riding on the adult’s back.
The second parent brought a fish. This chick has caught on quickly – after dropping the fish, the chick attempted to dive after it.
And, we have to have a stretching shot…..
The chicks pay attention to every move the parents make and will often mirror the adult’s position.

I hope to be able to follow these two families and a third through out the season. To watch them grow, sign up for updates when I add a post.

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