There is excitement developing in the Common Loons that have spent the past few months off shore on the Eastern Seaboard. It’s an inner drive that compels them to begin their northern migration back to our lakes. It is not only an exciting time for them, but for those of us who are just now enjoying the warmth of an early spring sun and the longer days!
Common loons generally make their northern trek by following the ice break-up, arriving on lakes just as there is some open water. They are frequently seen swimming and diving between ice floes. Males always arrive about two weeks prior to the females. Even though loons tend to mate for life, they do not spend their winters together– they may indeed be hundreds of miles apart! It is the nest site fidelity which draws them back to a particular location and each other.
Once both the male and female are reunited, they spend a leisurely early spring replenishing their body fat which was lost during migration, and preening their feathers. For diving birds, feather maintenance is a daily activity. Feathers must be repaired and renewed with oil from a gland above the tail. Each feather is carefully cleaned and oiled to enable them to dive without the feathers absorbing water. As they begin to dive, loons also compress their feathers, expelling trapped air which would keep them buoyant!
Soon after their return, they will check out their old nest and carry out any repairs necessary. If the nest has been badly damaged over the winter, a new nest will be constructed of vegetation materials nearby. Loons nests are always built within a few inches from the water. With their legs positioned at the rear of the body to enable powerful swimming and diving, the legs are pretty useless on land, so they must be able to push their body to the nest.
Usually two eggs are laid by mid May. Eggs hatch in about 30 days, and as soon as the young dry after being in the egg, they will leave the nest for open water, never to return to it.
If you are fascinated by loons and would like to learn more about them, please join me on Friday June 5, 2015 at 7:00 p.m. for a free presentation, The Loons of Dalrymple at the Carden Recreation Centre as part of the Carden Alvar Nature Festival. Make sure to register beforehand…it’s free to attend!
Written by David A. Homer.