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Common Loon

Recently-hatched Common Loon Chicks Stay Close to Parents

7-1-15   loon and chick  332The first few days of life for Common Loon chicks can be quite precarious. As soon as their down dries, the chicks are quick to leave their nest and enter the water, where they are not as vulnerable as far as land predators are concerned. However, there are dangers there, as well. Young chicks are exceptionally buoyant, and have difficulty maneuvering in the water. Parents must keep a close eye on them, so as to protect them from predators both above and below the water, such as Bald Eagles and Largemouth Bass. For the first two weeks or so parents provide protection for their young by ferrying them around on their backs much of the time. (Note egg tooth still remains on this two-day-old chick.)

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Common Loons Migrating

10-27-14 common loons migrating2  146Most of the eastern U.S. and Canada Common Loon population shifts from freshwater inland breeding locations to coastal marine wintering areas, although some remain at inland freshwater sites throughout winter. Research shows that the very large loons in Maine, New Brunswick, and eastern New Hampshire do not migrate far and primarily overwinter in the Gulf of Maine, while smaller loons from other New England and New York breeding populations migrate to Long Island Sound south to New Jersey.

Some Common Loons begin their diurnal migration to their wintering territory in late summer, but most loons leave their breeding territory in September (high latitudes) and October (low latitudes), and arrive at their destination by the end of November. Breeding pairs and their offspring do not migrate together. Parents generally migrate first, usually separately; young remain on their lakes after adults have departed, until near freeze-up, and often migrate in groups. Although they often migrate singly, common loons do form groups (in some places, hundreds or thousands of birds) on large bodies of water before and during migration. These are referred to as staging areas. When migrating over land, loons can reach an altitude of a mile and a half; over water they usually fly within 300 feet of the surface of the water.

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Two-month old Common Loon Chick Beginning to Look Like a Loon!

8-12-14 c.loon two months old IMG_8704Remember that little black ball of fluff that was featured in Naturally Curious loon posts two months ago? That downy Common Loon chick has lost both its black and its brown coat of down, and is now covered with smooth, gray contour feathers. Nearly the size of its parents, it is looking quite sleek. Soon the chick’s flight feathers will be completely in. In only a matter of two or three more weeks it will be flapping its wings and making take-off runs in preparation for flight, which it will be capable of in another month. (It will be two years old before it attains adult plumage.)

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Common Loon Chick Update

7-16-14 loon update2 187The fluffy, black loon chick that was the subject of Naturally Curious posts a couple of weeks ago is a month old this week (original photos were taken several days before posting), and it has undergone several transformations. Two weeks ago the black down of the newborn chick was replaced with a second coat of down that is brown in color. Between three to four weeks of age, its body elongated and its bill began to lengthen. In another week or so, the first gray contour and flight feathers will begin to replace the down, a process that takes about three weeks.

Both parents are very attentive and are providing as many fish and crayfish as the chick can consume, sometimes making the chick dive for its meal, sometimes not. Because one egg failed to hatch, the lone chick receives all of both parents’ attention, guaranteeing a full stomach. It isn’t unusual to see both parents dive, come up with fish in their bills, and deliver their catch simultaneously to their chick.

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Common Loons: Feeding Chicks

7-4-14 loons feeding 202Both parents provide their young with food (small fish, crayfish, etc.) several times an hour, especially early and late in the day. (This practice continues, in a more limited way, long after the young loons can provide for themselves, right up until the parents migrate — before the juveniles — in the fall.) Often food delivery takes place when the chick is in the water, but occasionally it occurs while the chick is on the parent’s back during its first week or so of life. Initially the adult loon catches prey, swims up to its chick while holding the prey in its beak until the chick grasps it and swallows it. By the third week, the parents start dropping the fish or crayfish in the water in front of the chick, forcing it to learn how to catch its own food. Needless to say, in the beginning, the adults must have great patience, retrieving and dropping the prey time after time while the chick acquires the skills necessary to catch it. (Photo: Adult with fish approaches mate while making a soft mewing sound. Mate raises wing, chick emerges and reaps the benefit of home delivery.)

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Common Loons: Brooding Chicks

7-2-14 common loon with chicks-broodingIMG_3215While loon chicks can swim as soon as their down dries, they are not able to regulate their body heat for their first two weeks of life and are dependent upon their parents for warmth. (A lot of the chick’s heat is lost through its feet when it is in the water.) Whereas most birds provide this warmth (in a process called brooding) in the nest, Common Loons brood their young on the water during this period. The chicks simply climb up the backs or sides of a parent while the parent raises its wing. Once the chicks are situated on the back of the loon, the adult lowers its wing, sheltering the vulnerable chicks from the elements. If the sun is out, the wind is slight and the temperature is warm, the chicks will come out from underneath the wing(s) and ride around enjoying the view. If the wind picks up or the temperature drops, the chicks will crawl back under their parent’s wings, totally hidden from view.

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Common Loons: Hatching

7-2-14  loons #3-hatching  395Peeps can be heard from inside an egg before the chick starts to crack it open (a process referred to as “pipping”) with its temporary “egg tooth.” The eggs hatch in the order laid, not at the same time. The chicks are covered with sooty black down which is often dry within an hour of hatching. While waiting for the second egg to hatch, the parent loon often takes the firstborn chick for its maiden swim, returning to the nest with the chick to incubate the remaining egg until it hatches. By the third week, the chick’s black down is replaced by brownish-gray down.

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