From the Field: Loon Chicks on the Water
By Emma Weber, National Loon Center & Loon Project Research Intern
As summer begins, many of the loon pairs in our study area can be seen with chicks riding on their backs or trailing them in the water. This week, I checked some territories on the Whitefish Chain with Emily (another research intern) and Mike (Program and Operations Associate for the NLC), and we were excited to find eight pairs on Cross and Rush lakes with either one or two chicks.
This brought the grand total this season to 19 sighted chicks, although hopefully the number will quickly rise as we continue to revisit lakes. When observing chicks, it’s always interesting to see them practice behaviors such as preening, “foot waggling,” and flapping their tiny wings. My favorite part, though, is watching how chicks interact with their parents.
A family of loons on Eagle Lake spent time together while I visited last weekend. One chick stayed on the parent’s back while the other alternated between floating in the water and laboriously climbing back up to sit beside its sibling, despite being so small that it was probably only a few days old. When the mate returned from foraging with some fish for the chicks, both chicks happened to be on the back of the resting parent. Seeing the food, the active chick quickly leaped into the water, which earned it a call from the parent that seemed to say, “I told you not to do that!”
I’ve also learned that not all parents stay constantly close to their young. During an intense interaction with an intruding loon (a loon that enters a pair’s territory to compete with a pair member), a couple of parents on Rush Lake left their chick floating in the water near some boat docks while they dealt with the intruder much farther offshore. Once I noticed the chick sitting in open water, I was anxious for the parents to return to it. I couldn’t help but think of all the different predators on the lakes that would gladly make lunch out of a small chick- eagles, ospreys, large fish, and snapping turtles come to mind. However, the parents had the situation under control; soon, the intruder fled, and they returned to their chick.
While several pairs have hatched their chicks, some laid clutches of eggs later and continue to incubate. As the season progresses, we will keep an eye out for failed nests while hoping that the next time we visit each incubating pair, we can experience the excitement of finding one or two new chicks.