Photo by Kittie Wilson
And then there were three...loons that is
Spofford Lake has been fortunate to have had loon chicks the past two years. Many folks have expressed interest in learning more, so here is a loon primer, courtesy of the Loon Preservation Committee. North America is home to five species of loons with the Common Loon being the most widespread and well-known. It is the only loon species that breeds as far south as New Hampshire.
Loons are a migratory species that spend the breeding season on inland lakes and overwinter on the ocean. They arrive on their breeding lakes shortly after the ice goes out in the spring and remain late into the fall or early winter, often leaving for the ocean shortly before ice forms. Loons display high territory fidelity, and individuals typically return to the same breeding lake year after year. This often results in the same male and female loons pairing up and breeding together in consecutive years; however, contrary to popular belief, loons do not mate for life. If one member of a pair dies or is displaced by a rival, its mate will accept a new breeding partner.
In New Hampshire, loons typically initiate their nests between late May and late June. Because loons cannot easily walk on land, their nests are built at the water’s edge, which makes them vulnerable to a number of threats. Loons generally prefer to nest on islands as opposed to mainland shoreline.
Loons typically lay 1 or 2 eggs per nest attempt. Male and female loons share incubation duties equally. Adult loons provide high levels of parental care to their chicks until the chicks reach fledging age (around 12 weeks of age). Because of this extended period of care, loons have only one brood of chicks per year. Loon chicks are vulnerable to predation and attacks by intruding loons. Due to nest failures, loss of chicks, or years in which pairs do not nest, the average loon pair in New Hampshire successfully raises just one chick to fledgling age every two years.
This slow rate of reproduction is counter balanced by the loon’s long lifespan—the oldest loon of known age in New Hampshire is over 30 years old. This means that although loons produce few chicks each year, they have the potential to produce many chicks over the course of their lifetime. Because of this, the viability of our loon population relies heavily on adult loon survival.
As far as the situation on Spofford Lake is concerned, Val Starbuck, the SLA team lead for loons offers these comments:
“Loons have been coming to Spofford Lake for many, many years, but typically only to spend a short time on their way north. "In my years of living on the lake year round, I only noticed loons staying the whole summer beginning about 8 years ago". The first nest the Loon Preservation Committee knows of happened last year (2020) and we were all very fortunate to see one chick arrive and survive to adulthood. It’s amazing that their first nest resulted in a chick that survived because the odds are not favorable.
There are so many lake and town residents who are protective of our “Loons of Spofford”. Thank you all for your caring and willingness to help our loons breed and strengthen their numbers. They are endangered and need all the help they can get.
Enjoy the loons and share the space. Please stay at least 150 feet away from any loon and be particularly careful now through July, when the chick is so very small. Often the parents will both dive for food and leave the chick unattended on the surface which makes it super difficult to see.
Page updated June28, 2021