Posted by Matthew Sim
For the third straight year, on a camping trip to southeastern British Columbia, I watched a family of Common Loons as they went about their lives despite living on a very busy lake and getting quite a bit of disturbance from vacationing families. As we watched the parents (something old as I have seen them before) tending to their young (something new) I couldn’t quite help but be amazed at how they can continue call the lake home despite the popularity of the lake among campers.
This year, there were two young loons. You may remember from last year’s post that there was only one chick last year (last year’s post can be seen here). It was quite remarkable to watch how the adult loons worked together this year with two chicks instead of one; sometimes each parent would take care of one of the chicks while at other times, one parent would give the other a break and watch over both chicks for a while before the parents eventually switched.
Though loons can be very sensitive to disturbance, these loons seem to have adapted well to human presence. Also, there is no motorized boat traffic on their lake, so maybe they are fine with kayakers, canoes and swimmers.
Off to feed its young
Common Loons nest on small islands, muskrat lodges and sometimes on the shores of their lake if these shores are forested and undisturbed. They lay one or two (sometimes three) eggs and take turns incubating these eggs for 28-30 days before the black, downy chicks are hatched. These chicks can swim immediately and they leave the nest with their parents within 24 hours of hatching. Though they can swim, for the first 2 weeks they will often ride on their parents backs perhaps to stay warm and avoid predators. Within six to eight weeks the young will be the size of the adults but until about eight weeks, they will continue to be fed by their parents. I noticed that of the 2 chicks, one seemed to be very independent already while the other one stayed close to at least one adult. Perhaps they had hatched several days apart?
The more dependent of the two chicks being fed; or maybe it just enjoyed free food?!
By three months, mountain lakes such as this one start to get colder and eventually the loons will have to leave; by three months the young can fly. During the 4 days that I was there, the young loons attempted flying a few times, though judging by all the splashing and flopping around, they still need some more practice.
Learning to fly
I found it quite interesting to observe the loons. Often, when I would watch them from a distance, patience would pay off and they would eventually swim quite close to me, within a few feet. The young ones seemed to be especially curious and would often linger around my raft. I had a great time watching the loons and spent many hours with them up close, learning different aspects of their lives. I got plenty of photos and as these seem to tell a story better than words I will leave it at that.