Squam Lake Loon Report: Chicks doing well, but last nest failed

The good news for the past week is that all of the chicks on the Squam Lakes are still doing well! There are 4 chicks on Squam Lake and one chick on Little Squam—they are being busily fed minnows and crayfish by their hard-working parents and are growing fast. As they get older, the families are starting to move around more widely within their territories, so please keep ask your lake neighbors to be alert for loons and boat carefully in areas of the lake marked with Loon Preservation Committee’s (LPC) orange “Caution: Loon Chicks” signs. The unhappy news for the week is that the final nest on Squam Lake has failed. The nest went beyond its expected hatch date and the adults gave up on it yesterday. Working under LPC’s state and federal permits, I collected the single egg on the nest for LPC’s research, and it will be a candidate for contaminant testing as part of our Squam Lake Loon Initiative. It is disappointing—I was hoping for another chick or two on the lake yet! But please spread the word to lake users to boat carefully in areas marked with the chick signs and to keep a respectful distance (at least 150’) from loons and loon families—let’s all work together to give the chicks the best chance for survival! Thank you for your help!

I received a report last week that there may be a loon with a fishing lure or fishing line attached to it in the area of Owl’s Head. Please let me know if you see this loon. So far, the loons I have seen in this area of the lake have been fine, but I am continuing to watch carefully. Thanks to the people who reported this possible problem—it’s very much appreciated!

Just a reminder to spread the word about LPC’s lead tackle buyback program (download flyer) and to ask lake users, neighbors, and renters to use only non-lead, loon safe tackle. Lead fishing jigs and sinkers weighing 1 oz or less are banned for sale and use in New Hampshire, so it’s both the law and the right thing to do to protect loons and other wildlife. The good news is that LPC’s data suggests that the majority of loons that die from lead tackle ingestion acquire it from current fishing activity (ingesting a fish that has broken a line and has tackle attached to it or striking at a bait or fish being retrieved by an angler). It used to be thought that loons ingest lost tackle from the lake bottom as grit, but LPC’s data suggests that this seems to be only a relatively minor way that loons ingest lead tackle. This is an encouraging finding—if people stop using lead tackle, we should see an immediate benefit to our loon population with fewer lead deaths! So far this summer, 6 loons have already been documented statewide that have died from lead tackle ingestion. Unfortunately, these likely won’t be the last this year. Squam Boat Livery is participating in the lead tackle buyback program and lead tackle can be turned in there in exchange for a $10 coupon, Lead tackle can also be turned in at the Loon Center, Squam Lakes Association, and NH Fish and Game offices. Also, please remind people to reel their line in if loons are in the area where they are fishing and to wait for the loons to move on—loons’ natural instinct is to strike at something that flashes past them, thinking it’s a fish. Unfortunately, it could be a bait being reeled in, resulting in that loon being hooked. So please encourage people to fish in a way that is loon safe—lead free and reel in around loons!

Mark your calendars now for August 22nd—that is when we will have the preliminary data pulled together on how the 2019 season was for New Hampshire’s loons! LPC’s Senior Biologist, Harry Vogel, will be giving the end-of-season report at the Loon Center at 7:00. Please join us to get the first word on the 2019 loon season!

We wrapped up the “Meet the Loons of Squam” series with the last of our banded singles on the lake. “Meet the Loons of Squam” will return next year when we will revisit the territories and see what changes have occurred in our pairs. For the rest of this summer, please see the P.S. below for “What are those crazy loons doing?!?”—a look at loon behavior and what it all means! This week, we’ll take a look (and a listen!) to those iconic calls—what are the loons saying? Please see the P.S. below to find out! As always, please feel free to contact me with any reports, questions, or concerns, and please contact the Loon Preservation Committee to report any sick, injured, or dead loons (603-476-5666).

Thank you for your interest in Squam’s loons!

P.S. “What are those crazy loons doing?!?”: The Calls—As anyone who has spent any time on New Hampshire’s lakes knows, loons have a lot to say for themselves The calls of the loons are just as iconic as the beautiful black and white plumage of the birds themselves. It’s hard to imagine the Squam Lakes without those haunting calls echoing off the mountains. But just what are the loons saying? Loons have an extraordinary communication system and convey a lot through their calls. Let’s take a quick look (and listen!) at the loons’ 4 main calls and what they mean. You can click on the following link to listen to the calls: https://www.loon.org/voice-loon.php.

1) Tremolo: Many people have a misconception about the tremolo, which is often called “the loon’s laughter.” Unfortunately, the loon is not laughing at all. This is the loon’s main distress call, given in situations when a loon is very upset, such as when an eagle is flying over or a boat is much too close. If loons give this call when you are in the vicinity, please back away from them. This is also the strongest call a female loon can give, and a female loon will use it during fights with other loons. You will sometimes hear a “tremolo duet,” in which both members of a pair tremolo to express their upset over whatever is happening. At night, especially in early spring, a pair may tremolo duet to announce that they are on territory, and this also serves as a pair-bonding ritual. This call is the only call a loon gives when flying. In this case, it is a little higher-pitched than the on-the-water version and is simply a contact call.

2) Wail: The wail is the main contact call for loons, given to reconnect with a mate that may be at the other end of the territory or to call chicks over to a parent. The wail basically means, “Where are you? I’m here, come here.” It is frequently heard at night as loons make contact with their mates and communicate with neighboring loons. The wail can also be a low-level distress call—if a loon is feeling a little nervous but it hasn’t risen to “tremolo-level” distress, they will use the wail. Again, if a loon gives a wail when you are nearby in a boat, please back away.

3) Yodel: This call is given only by male loons and is used as a territorial defense call. Individual male loons have their own version of the yodel, and they are distinct enough that even human listeners can identify individual males by their yodel. With their yodels, males let other male loons know they are on territory—and that other male loons should stay away! It is also given in fights between male loons, and research has shown that male loons can tell how strong another male is by listening to their yodel. This gives them a chance to back out of a fight if they realize they are facing a much stronger loon! I once saw a loon pair scuffling over a territory boundary. The mini-fight soon broke up and both pair members were swimming back into their respective territories. Suddenly, one of the males turned around, swam right up to the territory boundary, and yodeled—it was like he was saying, “And stay out!” Males will also yodel to express upset/distress, they will yodel at bald eagles, and they will yodel at passing airplanes–oversized bald eagles to loons!

4) Hoot: The hoot is essentially loon chatter and is much softer than the other calls. The hoot can be given in family groups as a checking-in/life-is-good call. You may see a family swimming along together with the adults hooting back and forth to each other. Adults will hoot to encourage their chicks to eat, especially if the chicks are being stubborn and refusing the food. The more the chicks refuse to eat, the more vehement the hoot from the adult gets! Hoots are also given between loons in social groupings who don’t know each other. In this case, loons seem to be talking out whether they are going to swim along together for a bit or if they are going to end up in a scuffle.

While these are the four main calls given by loons, loons also have other sounds. Loons make cooing sounds as they are looking for nest sites or preparing to mate. When chicks hatch, loons will give any combination of coos and the above calls. In this case, the usual meanings of the calls seem to disappear and the loons are simply announcing the hatch to the world! On a much sadder note, loons make soft moaning calls when they lose a nest or chicks. This is a truly heartbreaking call to hear. But loons have an amazing vocabulary and can express so much, so keep your ears open and listen to what the loons are saying!

Thank you for your interest in Squam’s loons!

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