Understanding the Social Dynamics of Loon Territory Holders and Outsiders

A common loon adult on the lake’s surface with its chick by its side. Both are facing away from the camera, but the adult’s head is turned to the right, showing its side profile.
Photo by Brandi Grahl
Two common loons face each other on a lake. The one on the left has its wings outstretched and neck craned forward.
Photo by Karen Field
  1. As these nonbreeding “floaters” got older they became more likely to intrude on territories of pairs that had chicks the previous year, less likely to be submissive to the territory owners, and more likely to be aggressive or yodel (note, it is only male loons that yodel).
  2. Compared to neighboring loons of territory holders, floaters were more likely to intrude on the territories and will remain for a longer period of time. Floaters were also less likely than the neighboring loons to intrude on territories with chicks.
  3. When floaters intruded on lakes that were home to hatched chicks the year before, the social interactions of floaters increased.
  4. Territory owners were not any more aggressive to floaters than they were neighbors, but they did behave aggressively towards older floaters. Older floaters are more dangerous, because they have the size and fighting ability to challenge owners in battle and evict them.
  5. Territory owners were particularly defensive when chicks are small. Males with young chicks seemed to yodel to discourage intrusions and relied on more aggressive tactics to defend chicks once they are older.
graph showing chick age (days) on the x-axis and number of yodels on the left y-axis (red line) and number of aggressive behaviors on the right y-axis (blue line). The red line for yodels peaks at chick age 0 then declines after that. The blue line for aggressive behaviors increases to peak around 15–20 days and generally declines after that.
Graph from Piper et al. 2022

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The National Loon Center restores and protects loon breeding habitats, enhances responsible recreation, and catalyzes critical loon and freshwater research.

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National Loon Center

National Loon Center

The National Loon Center restores and protects loon breeding habitats, enhances responsible recreation, and catalyzes critical loon and freshwater research.

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