Six Loons on One Territory?

June 12, 2022

Beware the cost of success; it brings notoriety. Notoriety brings envy and jealousy. Others want what you have. As I’ve written before, loons keep tabs on each other and they know who’s living the good life. Our pair has certainly been suffering the curse of notoriety lately. This clip, and this clip, show recent examples of our pair dealing with intruders.

But yesterday morning while Dad was on the nest he noticed something very concerning and went into a head-down defensive posture. It took quite a bit of scanning the lake but we finally saw five loons swimming and diving at the far end of the cove. Was Mom one of the five? Or was she laying low and monitoring the five? We’ll probably never know.

Five visitors on one territory during nesting is a bit much. Later in the season, after the chicks have hatched, five, ten or even twenty congregating loons is a common occurrence. Occasionally there might be a chick or two included in the group. It’s been suggested that loon parents bring chicks into another loon pair’s territory to fool visitors into thinking that the chicks are a product of that territory. Sneaky little buggers!

But how about a resident triad? On two occasions during my years of monitoring loons I’ve recorded three loons living in toleration of – and even in cooperation with – each other for the better part of the season. In each case I was able to identify a pair. Apparently the third loon moved in and couldn’t take over the territory but the pair was unable to drive the third loon out. That was enough to prevent nesting and the loons managed to live together in a form of detente. On one lake I found all three napping together within 20 feet of each other. On the other lake I witnessed the three loons cooperatively chase a fourth loon off the lake and then celebrate together. Three loons hurling insults at a fleeing visitor was a sight and sound to behold.

No matter how well you think you know loons, they’ll always come up with a new surprise.