Intruding Loons

June 4, 2022

The loon cam has recently been catching a few visits from intruding loons in the resident pair’s territory. One clip shows a single intruder nonchalantly swimming right between Mom and Dad. Dad (furthest away) raises up a bit, showing more white on his breast and and begins to swim toward the intruder. That was all it took to send the visitor wing rowing out of the frame and presumably flying off the lake. Mom, all this time, has a squared off forehead (akin to a dog raising its hackles) until at the very end when she decides there is no longer any threat.

The second clip shows a circle dance. Two intruders and one of the pair meet within range of the camera. The three approach each other, begin slowly swimming in a tight circle, and size each other up. The situation is tense so they each do a lot of peering (sticking their entire head under water) to guard against an underwater attack from any other loon that might be in the area. When one of them dives, they all dive. This for their safety and also it is an opportunity for them to assess their opponent’s defensive swimming skills. During the month of May you might see two loons doing a circle dance. But watch carefully. If the two are not pointing their bills at each other and if they are “dipping” (dipping only their bills and not peering) and doing synchronous diving, you are watching a courtship dance. These are not contestants; these are a pair taking their vows. And, yes, as far as I know loons renew their vows every spring, but it would be a difficult hypothesis to test. There may be some who don’t want to sign a prenuptial agreement.

But lets get back on track and ask the BIG question: why are there so many intruding visitors in this territory? Loons are social animals. The pair stays together all season, working cooperatively to do the daily chores and feed the chicks, but they also take a great interest in what other loons in their neighborhood are up to (see my May 24 post: The Territory). The territory of this pair is the entire lake so it’s not impossible for a visitor to safely land undetected, which would give it a bit of advantage in snooping around. And even more important, this pair’s home is in the middle of the Lakes District; it’s sort of a single home in the middle of a megalopolis. There is at least a dozen of other occupied loon territories within five minutes flying time, as well as a number of unpaired loons skulking about. They all want to know what’s happening here, just as this pair may individually take off to visit other lakes. Remember the female on the Loon Cam a few years ago? She left the lake for two days and left Dad to deal with the hatchlings. It’s all part of a loon’s life. It makes interesting viewing and with these two veteran parents it’s a minimal risk.