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Posts tagged “Gavia immer

Common Loon Chicks Riding High

7-10-17 common loon and chick IMG_4179

Why do Common Loon chicks ride on their parents’ backs for the first two weeks of their life? There are several reasons. Loon chicks leave their nest as soon as their downy feathers are dry; if they stayed in their ground nest, they would be very vulnerable to predators on land. For the same reason, they rarely return to their nest.

Like many young birds, loon chicks can’t immediately regulate their body heat.  Many birds brood their young in the nest, providing them with warmth and shelter.  Common Loon parents brood their young on their back (and under their wings). On windy, cloudy, cool days, the chicks are nowhere to be seen, huddled under their parents’ wings. On calm, sunny days, they are in full view.

Although they can swim immediately after hatching, loon chicks are very buoyant and have difficulty maneuvering. Predators such as Bald Eagles, Common Ravens and gulls are quick to prey on young loons that have no parental protection. In addition, predatory fish such as Northern Pike and Largemouth Bass are a threat. Once they are several weeks old, the chicks are not only bigger, but they are more mobile and can avoid predators more easily.

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Common Loon Chicks Growing & Acquiring Survival Skills

7-13-16  common loon chicks2  361 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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Common Loons Returning

common loons back IMG_7494

After spending the winter along the Northeast coast, adult Common Loons are returning to their New England breeding ponds and lakes.  Evidence indicates that photoperiod determines the general timing of their northern migration.  Loons are well known for arriving at their breeding lakes soon after ice out (often returning when lakes are only partly open). How do they time their return so precisely?  Loons often congregate in open bodies of water, including rivers, as they proceed northward. Once they approach their breeding grounds, reconnaissance flights are made from open water to territorial waters to see if the ice is out. Once it is, their migration continues.

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Avian Air Sacs

7-10-15  sinking loon2  482Birds have a very efficient breathing system which makes use of their lungs, but also utilizes air sacs (7-12, depending on species) within the bird’s body. Common Loons use their air sacs for more than respiration, however. By changing the amount of air in the sacs, loons can vary their depth while resting in water. A deep breath fills the sacs with air and produces high flotation. During dives, in addition to compressing their feathers(which forces air out from between them), loons decrease the amount of air in their air sacs by exhaling. The ability to deflate their air sacs also allows loons to quietly sink below the water’s surface in order to make it easier for their young chicks to climb aboard.

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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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