Loon Family Time

Parent loon and chick 2.jpg

Summer is loon time in the Adirondacks. These signature diving birds of clear northern lakes return to us in spring, having spent the winter dining on East Coast seafood. When the ice goes out, the loons come in. In short order they're hooting and yodeling and renewing bonds with old mates or forging new ones with paramours.

I vowed to get to know loons better this year, and to expand my archive of photos of them. Approaching near-tame birds on a lake where they're accustomed to seeing people and boats, I managed to win their trust and spend several happy hours among them. My loon companions were a family of three: a male, a female, and a chick not many days out of the egg. 

Interactions within the loom family seemed tender. The parents interacted gently, with one sometimes feeding the other. Males and females are all but identical, with the males being slightly larger. The chick, not much bigger than a tennis ball and similarly fuzzy, seemed to enjoy snuggling up to each parent equally.

Loon and passenger 1.jpg

Fatigue seemed to come over the baby loon now and again. Sensitive to the situation, one of the parents (it seemed each time to be the smaller female) would edge up to the little one, lift a wing, and invite it to crawl up and underneath. Sometimes the chick would stay there, out of sight. Other times it would wriggle on top and either take a rumble seat in the back or smuggle up to the big bird's neck.

Loon and passenger climbing up.jpg
Loon and passenger 3.jpg

Loons feed on aquatic life: fish, crustaceans such as crayfish, insects, and more. I watched the parent loons feed each other and feed (or attempt to feed) their chick small slender fish, crayfish, and water striders they plucked from the surface of the cove.

Loon feeding loon.jpg
Loon feeding chick.jpg

While watching parent loons tend a chick or two is a thrill, a great part of the appeal of loons is their almost-too-good-to-be-true beauty. I've admired loons on Adirondack lakes for forty years. Still, each time I get a good look at one I'm astounded anew by its handsome shape, the intricacy of the black-and-white checking (the black turning to metallic green or purple in the right light), and the blazing red eyes. On top of all that, loons speak expressively. There can be few experiences more thrilling than standing on the shore of a wild northern lake at night and hearing the haunting wail of a loon rising and falling from a point unknown, somewhere far out in the darkness.

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