Loon Cam FAQ's
Our faithful viewers have created a MN Bound Loon Cam FAQ page combining information from the last several years at the loon nest. We hope this answers many of your questions about what is happening, as well as offer additional resources to learn more.
SPRING - WHEN DO THE LOONS RETURN IN THE SPRING?
Larry says: As soon as the ice goes out of "their lake", they will be there to set up ownership of their territory again. In 2009, Ice Out on “our” lake was Sunday, April 5th. In 2010 ice out is believed to have been on March 30th. As for 2011, the date the ice left was reported to be April 11.
Again quoting Larry:
I have seen in previous years where the loons were on the lake on the day that the ice went out. How do they know? How do they do it? There are some researchers who have theorized that loons keep moving north as waters open up. When they reach the area of "their" lake, they stay on whatever open water is available in the area. Then they make daily reconnaissance flights to their lake to see if it is ice free yet. And once there is open water on their lake, they are there ready to stake out and defend their territory.
Quoting Larry again, from Wednesday, April 8, 2009:
Last night I saw a single loon sitting out in front. It is the first one I have seen this year. I don't know if it is one of "our loons" or if it is just a loon passing through as it makes its way farther north. Either way, it is exciting to see a loon. At least one of them is back from their winter down south.
That loon may also be one of the chicks from 3 years ago. The accepted wisdom is that when they come back after 3 years on the Gulf of Mexico they will return to the lake that they were born on. Then they may be driven off by the pair (possibly their own parents) who have staked out that lake as "their territory".
But it may also be the male of our pair of loons. The male sometimes scouts out the territory a few days before the female joins him.
If past experience is any guide, it will take the loons a few weeks of checking out the nest before they get serious about building their nest for this year. That is IF they use the nesting platform again. Like I said before, we can put it out. But we can't make the loons use it. We are totally at their mercy from that point on as to whether they use the platform again. We have been very fortunate that they have chosen to use the platform every year for several years now. And they have laid and hatched eggs every year. Others have not been so fortunate.
In 2009 the first egg was laid on April 30th and the second egg was laid on May 2nd. In 2010 the first egg was laid on May 5th and the second egg was laid on May 8th.
The eggs are incubated for four weeks (twenty-eight days).
EGGS SHOULD HATCH:
It takes approximately 28 days for loon eggs to hatch, so we anticipate our first loon chicks around June 2.
Baby loons are called chicks.
SIZE OF LOONS:
Sibley has the following data:
Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata) LENGTH 36" WINGSPAN 36" WEIGHT 3.1LB
Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica) L 25" WS 36" WT 3.7LB
Arctic Loon (Gavia arctica) L 27" WS 40" WT 5.7lb
Yellow-billed Loon (Gavia adamsii) L35" WS 49" WT 11.8lb
OUR LOONS: Common Loon (Gavia immer) L32" WS 46" and WT 9lb
BEAK: WHY IS THE LOON’S BEAK OPEN SO MUCH OF THE TIME?
The open mouth and breathing heavily on the nest is a way for the loon to control body temperature while incubating the eggs, in the same way that a dog or cat will "pant" during warmer temperatures.
EYES: ARE LOONS’ EYES REALLY RED?
Larry says: On the camera, it is hard to see. But when they turn their head just the right way in the sunlight, you can see that bright red eye. They have this coloring only during the breeding season and summer months. The rest of the year the loon's eyes are brown with maybe just a tiny tinge of red.
FALL: WHEN DO THE LOONS GO SOUTH FOR THE WINTER?
According to folks from Wisconsin's LoonWatch program, fall migration occurs in October through November.. Adults leave first & juveniles last. There are large staging areas, with hundreds and hundreds of loons, such as at Lake Mille Lacs.
DO THE CHICKS FLY SOUTH WITH THE PARENTS?
The adults leave first, and the young will fly south in October or November. Immature loons are obviously fledged out enough for their fall migration, although their plumage is a brownish gray and white. Young loons will spend three years at their southern wintering grounds, and when they return to the northern nesting areas, they will have gotten their adult plumage.
Some New England juvenile and even adult loons will spend their winters right off the Maine coast and not go any further than where they find the first open water that won't freeze that winter. Larry has mentioned in the past that the loons, not only shed their black and white pattern, but they also do not make their distinctive calls during the winter months.They also don't have the red eyes in the winter months. Isn't it amazing how much their bodies change for the sake of producing another generation every summer!
DO THE YOUNG LOONS COME BACK IN THE SPRING WITH THE PARENTS?
From Larry: When the young fly south in October or November, they will not come this way again for probably three years! When the young fly south for the first time this fall, they will stay on the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Coast for the next three years before they once again return to Minnesota.
Then not only will they return to Minnesota, they will also supposedly return to the SAME LAKE that they were born on.
From Larry’s blog: It is anchored a couple hundred feet from shore. There is a bed of cattails and weeds and other materials that have washed up on shore on the platform. [These are] the same materials that they would use if they built the nest anywhere without any help from man. Now it is up to the loons to come and rearrange the materials however they want. It is up to them to build a nest that suits them.
SOUND TO GO WITH THE VIDEO?
We are fortunate to have both sound and night vision this year (2010).
The camera is hard wired and powered rather than being wireless or battery operated. And you are right, it can be pretty 'tricky'. But it has worked amazingly well. In all these years, the camera itself has never gone down. We have always gotten picture off the camera, even with the new infrared night vision camera this year.
The nest is located about 150 feet from shore.
The wiring comes off the camera and the microphone, down the edge of the nest into the water. From there, it then runs along the bottom of the lake up to the shore. It is not suspended in the air at any point after it enters the water. From the shore it runs across my lawn up to the house where it is connected to the encoders and servers. The signal is sent first to Minneapolis and then to South Africa and Germany and then out to everyone around the world.
An amazing amount of technology around the world and behind the scenes that makes it possible for you to watch and hear the loons!
LARRY'S TV APPEARANCE:
Here's the link to Larry's appearance on the Simply Science segment from KARE 11 TV:
To augment Larry's entertaining and knowledgable loon blog entries, as well as all the information in this thread and the various other threads in this chat room, an excellent quick FAQs list about loons can be found at
And there's more good information here:
There's an image of an immature loon here:
This URL will take you to two small images of immature loons, both side and head on views, whick you can click on to inlarge.
Here's what Larry wrote last year about loon calls. Larry, I hope you don't mind if I post this here. I think people would love to know at this point the different calls and their meaning, especially as we have sound this year.
Loons have four basic calls that they use to communicate.
I usually refer to them as two "good calls" and two "bad calls".
The two "good calls" are the wail and the hoot. The "bad calls" are the tremolo and the yodel. Why do I call them good calls and bad calls? The wail and the hoot are calls that loons use to communicate with each other when everything is ok. However, the tremolo and the yodel are alarm calls and are used when the loons is concerned or upset.
The wail is one of the calls that many of us have heard echoing across the lake at twilight. That haunting call that echoes from one end of the lake to the other. And then is answered by a loon across the lake.
It is the loon's way of saying to another loon, "Hi. I am here. Where are you?"
The hoot is a call that most people never hear. It is a quiet call that loons use to communicate to their chicks or to each other when they are close together.
The tremolo is sometimes called the crazy laughing call. It is an alarm call. It means the loon does not like something that is going on. Something has happened to upset it. There is danger in the area. The loon is saying I am not happy with what is going on right now. When one loon makes the tremolo call, another loon will many times answer from some other part of the lake. And if they are mates, the mate will usually swim towards the other loon immediately. Especially if they have eggs or chicks. The tremolo call is made by both males and females.
It is also sometimes made while the loon is flying and in that case it does not necessarily an alarm call. Some researchers feel that a loon uses that call while flying to see if another loon answers from the lake below. And if the loon is searching for territory, it knows that there is a loon on that lake and it is taken.
The yodel is the most extreme of the alarm calls and is made only by the male loon. It says to everyone around, "This is MY territory. Stay away. Do come near. I will fight you to defend my territory." It is used by the male under the great stress.
It is sometimes accompanied by splashing and the loon half flying and half walking on the water toward whatever has upset it. Or it may trigger a behavior called the "penguin dance" or "water walking" where the loons paddles its feet quickly and rises up out of the water. Almost standing straight up and down with its beak pressed against its breast. When it does this, it looks a lot like a penguin, hence the name "penguin dance".
People have seen this dance if they have gotten too close to a nest or loon chicks and have thought, "How cool is that! The loon came right up to us and showed off for me." No, the loon wasn't showing off for you or wanting you to feel good. It was saying, "You are really scaring me. You are way too close to my nest or my chicks. I want to show you how big and tough I am and I want you to get out of here right now!" It is usually accompanied by a lot of splashing and excited diving.
If you back away, they will quickly settle down and relax. If it is in response to another loon, it may very well be the prelude to a fight.
So now that you know how to speak "loon", each of the calls will have much more meaning for you when you hear them. Without even seeing the loon, you have a very good idea of what is happening by simply hearing the call. I have to admit I enjoyed all of the calls more before I knew what they actually meant! Especially the tremolo and the yodel. Now even though I still enjoy the calls, when they make one of the alarm calls I realize that the loon is upset about something and will look to see if I can see what is upsetting them.
But by simply knowing what these four calls are and what the loon is saying when it uses them, you will have a whole new understanding of what is going on.
Aggressive encounters seem to usually involve attempted territorial take-over of a breeding area or a feeding area. Early in the season, a male or a female will invade a territory and test the pair bond of the resident pair. If the intruder is a male, it will face-off with the resident male. If the intruder is a female, it will face-off with the resident female. Occasionally a pair will intrude and the four will face-off together; this is especially common on large lakes with adjacent territories. Later in the breeding season, a single adult or pair will face-off with any intruding loon in defense of its young. Even lone non-breeding loons occasionally have aggressive encounters over popular feeding areas. This type of encounter is usually resolved quickly with the “loser” moving on.
The loon’s primary weapon is its bill. Therefore most aggressive postures and movements involve threatening the opponent with the bill. A typical aggressive encounter sequence involves the loons coming together in the middle of the lake. They will circle swim, peer underwater, and jerk their heads. They will pint their bills directly at their opponent(s). All birds involved will occasionally jerk or splash dive. While underwater the loons attempt to stab their opponent with their bills.
The outcome of most encounters involves the expulsion of the losing loon (often the intruder) from the territory. The losing loon will either dive and swim out of the territory or fly off the lake. On rare occasions, loons may be injured or killed in aggressive encounters and will not be able to leave the lake. When injured, they often crawl on shore to avoid drowning or to evade the attacking loon.
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Also, in answer to what is that floating out there?
It is the neighbors swimming raft which they graciously allow me to place out beyond the nest to try to keep boaters and jet-skis away from the nest. You may also notice a couple buoys which are used for the same purpose. You may confuse one of the buoys for a loon....I still do it when I look down at the lake.
The view "changes" depending on how the wind is blowing and how the nesting platform floats and turns. It is anchored in place but it is anchored somewhat loosely so that it can ride the waves rather than being overwhelmed by them. So that is why you sometimes see different views and perspectives.
I hope that helps answer some of your questions. Oh, one other question. The nest is not as near the edge of the platform as it may seem in the picture. It is almost in the middle of the platform. But with the nesting material raised, the perspective is deceiving and it looks like it is closer to the edge than it is. The depth of the nest and the distance to the edge should make the eggs very safe and also make the chicks safe when they hatch.
WHAT IS THAT SHADOW?
The shadow that some have said looks like an 'ant' or an 'alien' is actually the camera that is bringing you the picture and the microphone for the sound. The oval shadow at the very top is the camera and the more square shadow a little ways down the pole is the microphone. The other part that looks like branches waving in the breeze are just that....willow branches that give a little bit of height and protection from eagles being able to swoop down directly on the nest.
OTHER CREATURES ON THE NEST
There are three other living things known to have ventured on to the nest this season. The muskrat, a killdeer, and a sandpiper. The nesting loon appears to be quite tolerant of the birds. Not so much with the muskrat! See Larry's blog for really great descriptions of the interactions between the loons and the muskrat.
SOME INFO ON WHY LOONS TURN (OR DON'T TURN) THE EGGS
Turning the egg is believed to do 2 things....
-help to evenly heat the contents of the egg
-but more importantly, keep the developing chick from sticking to one side of the egg or the other.
[Written when the egg had 1st been laid] Since this egg is newly laid, there is no development of anything yet so there is no need to turn it immediately. Also, since there is no development at this stage, the egg can be allowed to cool completely with no harm (within reason).
HOW LONG WILL A LOON EGG TOLERATE BEING "EXPOSED" TO SUNLIGHT OR COOL AIR?
If left uncovered a loon egg will maintain its temperature for a longer period of time than the egg of a small bird. Loons have been known to leave their eggs unprotected for six to eight hours and still produce a live and healthy chick at hatching. We have witnessed even longer periods of time that the adult was off the nest, still resulting in a healthy chick at hatching time.
ARTIFICIAL NESTING PLATFORMS
In the course of our study of loon reproduction, we have examined a question related to conservation: what impact, if any, do artificial nesting platforms have on reproductive success?
Nesting platforms have been used by wildlife agencies and local naturalists in many states and Canada in hopes they might mitigate the negative impact of shoreline development on nesting habitat of loons, which place nests on shorelines and islands. Our data show a dramatic increase in hatching success among loons using platforms compared to loons using shoreline sites [Piper et al. 2002], chiefly because raccoons and other egg predators rarely swim out to floating platforms to consume loon eggs. However, the greater reproductive success of platform nesters comes with a price. Jay Mager has recently found higher rates of aggression and territorial takeover on territories with platforms, indicating a greater likelihood of eviction for breeders on such territories [Mager et al., In press].
2 Piper, W. H., M. W. Meyer, M. Klich, K. B. Tischler and A. Dolsen. 2002. Floating platforms increase reproductive success of common loons. Biological Conservation 104:199-203.
Mager, J. N., C. Walcott & W. H. Piper. 2008. Short-term use of artificial nest platforms increases aggressive behaviors and reduces productivity among common loons (Gavia immer). Naturwissenschaften 95: 141-147.
WHY A LOON PANTS
The loon on the nest is panting today. The sun must be hot on (s)he. They pant with beak open to cool themself. And if you see one snapping at the air they are being bother by black flies. A major pest for the loon.According to Evers and Taylor (Call of the Loon) parents will regularly catch insects and feed them to the chicks. So the blackflies had better watch out later on!
From Larry’s blog:
First of all, there are several questions you should answer before you consider doing a nesting platform.
-Are there normally loons present on the lake where you are considering putting a nest?
- Have they have nested on this lake in the last three years?
-Have you seen any newly hatched chicks in the last three years?
If the loons on your lake have nested in the past three years and have had chicks, it is probably better to let them nest naturally. You may do more harm than good by putting an artificial nest out on the lake.
If you have had loons on the lake and they have nested but never had any chicks, your lake may be a candidate for an artificial loon nesting platform. But be sure you check with your state Department of Natural Resources or whatever name it goes by. Work closely with them for advice and also any permission which may be necessary. Your local sheriff may also require a permit for you to put a loon nest like this on public waters. Each state has different requirements.
On the lake where I am, we have had loons for many years. But until I put the artificial nest out, it had been probably 30 years since anyone had seen chicks. The lake shoreline is very built up and it is a lake that has a lot of recreational usage. I think all of that added together meant that the loons were not able to nest successfully.
Once you have determined that your lake is a candidate for an artificial nest and you have obtained any permissions necessary , then it is on to building the nesting platform.
I do not have any blueprints. I should probably at some point consider developing some. But when I started I was doing everything pretty much by trial and error. Since then we have seen some of what is successful and this is what I will try and describe to you.
You can google “floating loon nest” and a number of resources will come up for you. Some of them utilize logs for the framework of the nest. These are nice but just be aware that they are heavy and ultimately they will become waterlogged.
The nest that I have has a frame made out of PVC pipe. It is roughly 5 feet by 5 feet and made out of normal 4 inch PVC drain pipe. In the center of the 5x5 square, I place construction foam sheets(the pink stuff) about 4 to 5 inches thick. It is vital that you very carefully seal all of the joints on the PVC pipe so that it is waterproof. It provides a lot of the floatation for the nest.
The foam in the center of the frame also provides a great deal of floatation. This is necessary since the nesting material that you will place on top of it will be very heavy when it is wet.
Around this frame and the foam, I wrap plastic ‘snow fence’ that is available at almost any hardware store. This hold the foam in place and helps keep everything together. I wrap it completely around the nest in both directions. I originally used chicken wire. Do not use chicken wire. It will barely make it through one season before it starts rusting through. Then for a couple years I used a much heavier galvanized steel fencing. But even this started to rust through after a couple years. The plastic snow fence has now been in place 3 or 4 years and it still looks almost like new.
Over this I wrap landscape fabric. The main purpose of this is to eliminate any cracks and crevices and holes where a young chick might become trapped. The last thing you want and nothing would be sadder than to successfully have a loon chick hatch only to lose it because it became trapped in the nesting platform itself. I also wrap the landscape fabric around the whole platform in both directions, just like with the plastic snow fence.
Pay the extra money to get the heavier construction grade landscape fabric. The cheap stuff will barely last one season where the heavier material will last at least 2 or 3 seasons. I am on the second season with this one and it still looks almost new.
By now you should have a nicely finished platform.
Now is the time to place nesting material on the platform.
This is an art more than a science. Some people have said they have had loons successfully nest without placing any material on the platform. But why take a chance? Loons are very opportunistic nest builders and will use whatever materials are close at hand. So my philosophy is why not provide them with everything they need?
That way they are moving into a ‘furnished home’. All they have to do is to rearrange the furniture to their liking!
That may be part of the reason why this nest has been successful every year for so many years in a row whereas only about half of the nesting platforms that are put out are ever used.
I use a combination of cattails and other weeds and material that has washed up on shore. As I rake weeds during the summer, I will save some of them for use the next spring. I figured that whatever washed up on shore is what loons would normally use so if it is good enough for them, it is good enough for me to put on the nesting platform.
I place this material over the whole area of the nesting platform to a depth or 5 or 6 inches. From that point on, I leave it up to the loons to decide how they want to rearrange it.
One thing that you will have to deal with is the tendency for wind and waves to wash all of the material off the nest. It is a real problem and one that I have gotten better at but I am not sure I have really solved it to the point where I am fully satisfied. I will always try to keep improving it.
But here are a couple things that I do. I build the base of the material out of cattails. It is quite the building project as I criss cross and almost interweave the cattails so that they hold each other in place. Then on top of this goes the rest of the weedy material. It is almost an engineering project!
To help hold that in place, I plant growing plants at key points on the nest. I place plants at the corners of the material, especially on the windward side of the platform. As the plants grow their roots into the nesting material, it helps to stabilize it and hold it in place. Be sure you leave clear areas for the loons to get on and off the nest easily.
I am still experimenting with what plants do best.
But what I have used the last couple years are a combination of irises and daylilies. They seem to be doing well and get enough water from the waves hitting the nest to keep them going. This year I also used some Creeping Charlie….maybe there is actually a good use for it!!!
If you gather weeds that have washed up on your shore, there will be some plants that start to grow naturally on the nest as the season goes along.
I am not sure which plants the muskrat is so attracted to but I will careful examine those areas after the loons are gone and try not to give him a salad bar next year!
Now you are ready to float your nest. But you will have to decide how you are going to anchor it. But before we get to that, let me mention one other thing. Be sure you float the platform and let it sit in the water for a few days just to make sure there is no leakage in the PVC frame. I would recommend you do this BEFORE you place the foam and snow fence and landscape fabric.
When I first built mine, it floated wonderfully…for the FIRST day! By the second day it seemed to be riding lower in the water. And on the third day it was tipped up on its side as the PVC pipe was filling with water. This step is crucial for you.
I use two anchors on the nest….partly as a failsafe method to keep it from getting loose and just floating away. But just as importantly is to keep it from just spinning around and around in the wind if you had only one anchor. I use one anchor point that is screwed into the bottom of the lake (after the loons leave, it is used to anchor a huge water trampoline for the ‘loony’ kids!). The other anchor is simply a cement block attached by a rope.
Leave enough slack in both of the ropes so that the platform can ride up and down on the waves. If you tie it too short and too tightly, the waves will wash over the nest rather than the nest riding over the waves.
The ability of the nest to ride over the waves rather than be overwhelmed by them is one of the strongest advantages of this type of an artificial nest.
It is anchored a couple hundred feet from shore. There is a bed of cattails and weeds and other materials that have washed up on shore on the platform. [These are] the same materials that they would use if they built the nest anywhere without any help from man. Now it is up to the loons to come and rearrange the materials however they want. It is up to them to build a nest that suits them.
So good luck with your artificial nest. May you have as much success as we have had with this nest!!
FEET AND FEATHERS
Just a few minutes ago, I watched a the loon off the nest was rolled on its side preening its feathers. It is a unique position for loons where they roll halfway over on their side exposing their pure white breast. And they preen to keep the feathers in good condition.
Their feathers are absolutely essential for their survival. It is their rain jacket to keep them dry. It is their down parka to keep them warm. If their feathers fail, they will quickly become waterlogged and cold. They may suffer hypothermia.
But as they preen, they take oil from a gland and rub it on their feathers. And by working the length of the feather through their beak, they reconnect all the barbs along the strands of the feather...almost like velcro. The combination of the oil and the integrity of the feather gives them a waterproof coat that protects them from the cold and rain and lake water. It is an amazing feat of engineering and yet simplicity.
And so the loon off the nest is taking care of its feathers by preening as it is rolled over on its side with its bright white breast exposed.
It is also doing what is known as the 'foot waggle'.
The foot waggle is where the loon actually waggles one of its feet in the air as it lays on its side. No one knows for sure why they do this but it is a typical loon posture or activity. There are some that say it is a way for the loon to cool off. But I have trouble believing that. And on a chilly day like today the argument could be made there is no need to cool off. Plus, I feel that the leg remaining in cold or cool water will cool the loon off much better and faster than waving it around in the air.
But those are just my thoughts and feelings. There are many people much smarter than me. But so far there seems to be no consensus of what the purpose of the foot waggle is or what it means.
I have watched even young chicks only a few days old do it. It is so cute to watch the little ball of black down doing the foot waggle.
A loon normally sits with its head upright but not held real high. There is usually a bend in the neck in its normal posture. This means the loon is fairly relaxed and comfortable. The loon will turn its head from side to side, always looking for danger. Ever alert.
There are other times when the loon will straighten its neck with its head held high. This is a time of increased awareness and concern. It has spotted something that has raised its level of anxiety. It may be another loon, an eagle or a fisherman. The loon is saying I see something that worries me and I am making sure I keep track of it. A loon may do this while on the nest or while swimming.
At other times, the loon may lower its head while on the nest.
When it does this, it means that there is something that is making it nervous. The lower the head is held, the more nervous it is.
There is a difference between loons how they will react to things.
I can be down by the lakeshore and one of the loons will never lower its head at all. The other loons is more skittish. And even though it seems to know me, sometimes it will lower its head.
The most extreme of this behavior is when the loon literally stretches out its neck and lays its head on the side of the nest. It is often called the "hangover position".
It is as if the loon is saying "If I lay my head against the side of the nest like this, you won't be able to see me."
It will often do this before flushing off the nest and into the water if there is a perceived threat around.
If you see a loon doing this in response to your presence, it is telling you that you are too close and it is very nervous. You should quietly back away from the nest and the loon will soon relax.
It is only 27 degrees right now. It will be another half hour before the sun even peeks it head above the horizon. And then another hour or two before it is high enough to begin warming the chill morning air. In fact, the temperature may very well drop a degree or two before that happens!
There is a lot of frost visible on the nest around the loon.
But underneath her, everything is as toasty and warm as you could ever want. And she makes sure that she keeps the eggs covered and protected from the frost. Her body and her wings and her tail make a perfect cocoon that protects the eggs from even a draft.
Most birds have a bare patch of skin on the breast. When they are incubating eggs, they can spread the feathers so that the warm, bare skin is pressed against the eggs to keep them warm.
Loons do not have this patch of bare skin which is called a 'brood patch'.
Instead, towards the back of their abdomen, in the whole area of the belly that rests on the eggs, they have an increased blood supply which keeps the eggs warm. Yet one more of the unique things about these special birds. And so each time the loon gets on the nest, it will not only roll the eggs but it will also position them towards the back of its abdomen to that place where there is increased warmth for them.
You can see the effect of this warmth this morning as the frost comes almost up to the loon. But there is a narrow band around the loon that is free of frost because of this extra warmth.
Even though the loons share nesting duties fairly equally, research has shown that the female spends about 60% of the time on the nest. And she is the one who usually takes the long 'night shift'.
I saw there was some discussion of how long the eggs could be uncovered without being harmed and that the number 6 to 8 hours was quoted. That figure would probably be true for more seasonable temperatures or daytime temperatures. With the temperature below freezing, I think they would be harmed much sooner but am not aware of any hard research that would give what that time would be.
It would also vary at what stage of development the egg was. Early on before the embryo has begun to develop very much, they can stand more time uncovered but definitely not freezing. Then when the chick is more fully developed, it generates some of its own heat so it can also stand more time uncovered. Probably the most vulnerable time is that mid stage of development.
NIGHT LIGHTS AT THE NEST
Won't the 'bright lights' on the nest for the night vision scare her? No, they are not bright lights. In fact you can hardly see them at all. They are infrared lights. I will also talk more about that when I go into more detail about the nest. And also about an experience I had the first year we did the webcam! My only question is if loons can see infrared light and I have not been able to find any research to confirm that either way. I do not think it is going to be a problem or we would not have done the night vision. There is another loon nest out east that used infrared with seemingly no reaction from the loons.
As I mentioned to you before, it was a question in my mind....whether loons had enough vision in the infrared range that the infrared light source that allows you to see in total darkness would bother them.
I never could find any definitive information in any of the research about whether loons had infrared vision.
I didn't think it would be a problem or we would never have tried it. But the nagging question was still there.
And now fully 30 minutes into complete darkness, she is still on the nest....seemingly unconcerned and unperturbed. Sitting on today's egg as solid as can be. So I think we are home free with the night vision camera. If it had been bothering her, I think she would have been off the nest by now.
Unfortunately, if it had bothered her, that would have been VERY serious because there is no way I could have allowed the cam to continue. We would have had to turn it off!! It isn't as if we can just turn off the night vision by flipping a switch. The only way to do it would be to go down, take the camera apart and rewire it to disable the night vision. And that ain't gonna happen as long as she is on the nest.
We could shut the whole site down at night but then you would not be able to enjoy the new night view or the sounds at all and there is a question if we would be able to successfully power everything up every morning without glitches.
Ok, that is way more than you wanted to know!
But just know that it seems to be working without bothering her and that means I sleep a LOT better tonight!!
Enjoy this stunning close up view of a loon on a nest in the middle of the night!! Very few people in history have ever seen something like this! And you are one of them!!
Some of you have been asking some questions. Let me try to briefly answer a few of them.
Mate for life? The accepted wisdom for year has been that loons mate for life. And for the most part that is true. However recent research indicates that they will sometimes switch mates. If they lose a mate or the mate dies, then almost for sure they will find a new mate. Some of the other possibilities are that if a nest is not successful, there is some thought that they might switch mates. Or is a stronger male comes along they might switch mates. And there is some evidence to say that a male may be strongly attached to territory as well as to a mate. But it general, it is still felt that most loons mate for life unless something else happens.
Life Span? Loons are very long-lived birds..especially compared to other birds. No one knows for sure how long they can live but at least 25 to 30 years seems to be the norm.
Eggs? Loons normally lay 2 eggs. Sometimes one. And rarely three. There is one report in research of a loon that had 4 eggs but that is VERY rare! The eggs are very large and make up 3 to 4% of body weight so it takes a lot of energy to produce them. The eggs weigh about 5 ounces!
The second egg is usually laid within 1 to 3 days of the first egg.
Head Motion? Someone mentioned see them tossing their head back like they were swallowing a fish. It could be a fish. But the times I have seen them do it they have been brushing off black flies! That is an AMAZING story and fact that we will talk about sometime, too!
What does all the mating mean? I honestly do not know. This is more mating than I have seen in any of the years of doing this. And there is not a lot of research available because most people never get this view let alone this view for such an extended period of time! You are seeing things that most researchers even a few years ago would have given anything to be able to see!
What is the nest made of? The nest is made of plant materials that a loon would find washed up on shore and also cattails which would grow in many of the places where they would make their nest. Someone wondered if there was enough material for her since she kept pulling at one piece. There is MORE than enough material for them!! Like orders of magnitude MORE material than they would ever have available in a 'natural' nest. So there is no shortage. At some point, I will try to go into more detail about the nest, the materials and the nesting platform.
Are these the same loons as previous years? There is no way to know for sure since these loons are not banded. [That is one of the many projects that I would like to do but amazingly Minnesota does not have anyone who is qualified to band loons.] But without the proof of banding, I am still 98% sure it is the same pair. How can I be so certain? For the last 4 years the loons have come in and swam around the EXACT place where the nest has been each year. There is NO reason for them to come to that spot unless they remembered the nest from previous years!
You will however remember that one of the first blog entries that I made this year, I talked about one of the most extended chases that I had ever seen in a battle for territory. I keep wondering who won that fight and whether or not this actually IS the same pair. I have also mentioned that there has been another pair on the lake and that there has been extensive yodeling [a territorial call that we will talk about when we talk about calls] in the middle of the night. That indicates a battle for territory.
Why hasn't she laid an egg yet? I don't know. lol While I keep wishing and hoping every time she is on the nest that she will lay an egg, it certainly is NOT time to despair yet. Several years in the past she has laid eggs later than this. But we all get impatient for her to get on with it. Including me! But she will decide when the egg is ready, not us. Is it possible that she will not lay eggs this year? Yes, anything is possible. But if she does not, it will be the first time in 8 years that the loons using this nest have not successfully laid eggs. That is an amazing track record!