A great deal of learning is packed into a Common Loon chick’s first week. It learns to ride on its parents’ backs as well as crawl under their wings, a necessity due to its vulnerability, lack of maneuverability, inability to regulate its body temperature. Communication skills are practiced, with soft “mewing” elicited when a chick is hungry or in need of attention. The act of preening begins, and the chick successfully retrieves small fish and crayfish from its parents’ beaks.
By the second week, Common Loon chicks are still fluffy balls of down, but they molt a second time, after which they are a much lighter brown. They dismount from their parents frequently and motor around under their own steam, usually staying very close to a parent. By the time they are ten days old, their hitchhiking days are over for the most part, and they are on their own when it comes to getting from one place to another. The eleven-day-old Common Loon chicks pictured are just starting to make shallow dives at this point in their development, but still depend largely on meal delivery from their parents. In another month, they’ll be catching most of their meals themselves, although their catches will be supplemented with food provided by the parents. In two months their flight, as well as contour, feathers will have replaced their down feathers, and within a couple more weeks of that happening, they will be capable of flight.
(The next Naturally Curious post will be on 7/18/16.)
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