Friday, May 1, 2009 6:03am


43 degrees     Partly Cloudy     Wind  W 6mph

On a chilly spring morning in Minnesota, one loon sits peacefully on the nest while its mate swims nearby.  The first rays of the sun start to gild the edges of the nest.

For 24 hours now, there has been an egg in the nest.  Now the question is, when will the second egg arrive.  Unless we see it being laid, we can only wait until the loon either leaves the nest or gets up to rearrange the eggs.  I would guess that there is still only one egg but that is only a guess at this point.

I know a number of you were concerned yesterday about the amount of time the loon(s) were off the nest and what that would do to the egg.  I don't think it should cause a problem for several reasons.

Early in the life of the egg, it can be exposed most of the time without much damage.  Even to the point of a number of days.  But once the chick inside has started to develop, it becomes more and more sensitive to getting cold.

If you have ever raised chickens, you will know that a chicken will lay a number of eggs in her nest over a period of many days.  But she does not sit on them all the time - that is, until she has the "right number of eggs", whatever that number is.   At that point, she starts to get serious about sitting on the nest and incubating them and will seldom leave.  On the farm, we used to call that chicken a "setting hen", "sitting hen" or a "clucker"!  I guess the latter name came from the fact that the chicken used to make a clucking sound that was somewhat unique to a chicken incubating eggs.

It is much the same with loons.  They are probably more serious about sitting on the egg right from the beginning.  But they are able to be off it more at this stage than they are later.  And when the second egg arrives, they will be even more serious about staying on the nest.  Unless they are frightened off by something or someone.

Some of you already noticed that the loon would lower its head once in a while and wondered what that was all about.  Very observant!

That is indeed a defensive posture.

If disturbed, a loon will lower its head, apparently to be less conspicuous on the nest.  The more it is disturbed or concerned, the lower its head will be.  All the way to the point where it will actually lay its head flat on the nest.  From a distance, a casual observer would not even know that there is a loon on the nest.  If the loon becomes even more disturbed, it will leave the nest.

What can cause that disturbance?  It could be an eagle overhead.  Or a person nearby.  Or a boat.  They could see a dog.  Or even if they hear a dog nearby they may go into that defensive posture.  Any number of things could cause that reaction.  

So if you are out in the wild and you see a loon on the nest with its head down very low, you may have gotten too close to it and it is concerned that you are there.  Simply back away and very soon you will see the head come back up.  And the loon will relax.

Sometimes we almost love loons too much.  They are so special that we want to be near them and see them up close.

A good rule of thumb for you is to stay at least 300 feet away from a loon or especially a loon on a nest.  Usually they will not be disturbed if you do that.  Closer than that and you will probably see them start to go into that defensive posture.  As I mentioned to you, when the loons are on the nest, we do not go out on the dock or out in a boat and we try to minimize that amount of activity near the lake.  The lawn has to be mowed and other things need to be taken care of, but we try to keep it all to a minimum to give the loons every chance to hatch their eggs.

So on this gorgeous spring day, enjoy watching our wonderful loons!  And remind yourself how good and amazing life is!