Saturday, June 19, 2010 8:53am CDT


64 degrees   Partly Cloudy  Wind NW 7mph


When the second egg was removed from the nest, it very rapidly broke the bond that the loons have with the nest.

Where before they had been willing to defend the nest, they now have little interest in it.  In the first day, they got back up on the nest a couple times.  But as far as I have seen, I do not think they have been up on the nest since.  They swim by once in a while but seem to have no interest in getting back up on the nest.  But even those times that they swim by the area where the nest is are few and far between.

It is surprising, but not unexpected, how quickly their behavior and their interest in the nest can change.

The power of that urge to lay those eggs and create a new generation of loons is so strong and one that we will probably never completely understand what causes it.  But it is universal.  We can simply observe it and describe it but I don't think we will ever totally understand it.

Now the loons are getting on with their lives.

They are not tied to the nest.  And they are not tied to two small needy chicks.  Without a nest and without chicks, they do not need to defend their territory like they did before either.  That has a lot of implications.  They are more sociable with other loons.  There are fewer fights.  And unfortunately there are fewer calls.

Part of what we see with calls of the loon that we so delight in is due to defending territory and protecting the nest and chicks.  So it is a catch 22 for us.  We want them to be free from being needlessly tied to a nest and we do not like to see fights and conflict.  But it is those very things that produce the calls that we love to hear.  So we are torn.  We want the calls of the loon to puncture the quiet of twilight.  But we don't want any of the negative things that sometimes produce those calls.

We all love those calls when we are 'up north' at the cabin or when we are out camping.  In so many ways, the call of the loon is quintessentially the definition of what it means to be 'up north'.

But as I have said to many people, I enjoyed loon calls much more before I knew what they meant.  Especially the tremolo and yodel alarm calls.  I still enjoy them very much.  They still thrill me and stir something deep down in my soul.  But now when I hear an alarm call my first thought is not to simply sit back and enjoy the sound.  My first reaction is to go see what is disturbing the loons!

May we all be able to be thrilled and stirred by loon calls for many years to come as we learn about them and take care of some of the things that they need to thrive.

We have already talked some about the Gulf oil spill and its potential impact on our loon population.  The possible negative impact is hard to overstate.  We can only hope that the spill is stopped soon and that the cleanup is fast and effective.  The first arrival of loons on the Gulf in October or November is not all that far away.

Amazingly, very little is known about loon's behavior and life when they are on the ocean.  The 'basics' are known.  But little is known about all the details.  So much more needs to be learned to fully understand these wonderful birds.

For instance, did you know that loons are one of the few birds who is uniquely equipped to survive and thrive on both freshwater and on salt water?

As humans, we are made for fresh water.  But if we are stranded at sea without fresh water, we will die.  We are incapable of drinking salt water and surviving.  That is part of the origin of the phrase "Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink."

But a loon is able to make that transition with ease.

It has a special gland in its forehead that is able to filter excess salt out of its system!

And that extra salt is excreted through its nares (nostrils)!!!

One more amazing fact about our amazing loons.

I mentioned the other day that there were some very exciting and interesting things that are being talked about.  One of those things is that some researchers are looking to implant satellite tracking devices in a few loons so that we can learn more about their migration routes and where they go - whether they go to the Gulf of Mexico or to the Atlantic Coast.  There is some data about that but it certainly is not fully understood.

And now the oil spill adds increasing urgency to understand some of that journey and what happens to them while they are on the ocean.  To fill in some of the blanks of what is known about them during this time.

Our loons would have been prime candidates for that study because we have so much data and background information on them.  But one of the conditions of this study is that the loons that are tagged with satellite tracking devices also have chicks this year.  So our loons are ruled out of the study.  That is what I was speaking about a few days ago when I said that there were some exciting things being discussed.

How good would it have been to learn even more about the loons that we have spent so much time watching and have come to care about and love.  To know where they go in the winter.  To know that they are ok and not being adversely affected by the oil spill.  To know if it is the same pair that comes back to the nest next year.  So many questions that could be answered.  But, alas, it is not to be.

But there is a need to locate loon pairs who do have chicks this year as possible candidates for this study which will add so much to our body of knowledge about loons.

So if you have a pair of loons that you have been watching this spring that DO have chicks, please let me know!  You can contact me at  Let me know what lake they are on, how many chicks they have and any other information you have.  It may be that 'your' loons could be prime candidates for this study.

Time is of the essence in identifying potential loon families to be studied because they will need to be identified and tagged by the middle of July.  So if you have loon pairs that you know about, please send me an email.  And let some of your friends who have been following the LoonCam know about this as well.

Because of the location of the researchers, preference will be given to Minnesota or Wisconsin loons and the closer to the Twin Cities, the better.  You could be part of helping us learn so much more about our favorite birds!

The bird that  is the source of that 'call of the wild'!