Penguin Dancing Season

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A territorial battle.  Lorna Kane-Rohloff

A territorial battle. Photo by Lorna Kane-Rohloff

The loon season is upon us and the birds are back setting up and defending their territories from intruder loons. Most territorial encounters actually occur pre-nesting, thus this is a pivotal time for pairs to strut their stuff and let other loons know who’s boss. Lorna Kane-Rohloff took this amazing photo of a turf battle last summer on Long Pond in Westmore. Penguin dancing, wing-rowing chases, and bill to bill encounters can occur at all times of year, but most takeovers occur now.

Although both the resident male and female loon will attempt to drive an intruder off, male intruders are focused on the resident male and female intruders on the resident female. The resident loon not directly involved in the territorial battle will accept the winner. Loons are more site faithful than mate faithful, in one sense, but he or she also wants the fittest mate. These encounters can range from loons just circling around with their bills down (a negotiation of sorts) to fights resulting in the death of a loon.  Mortality and injuries seem to be more common after male fights than female interactions. It’s an exciting time that we rarely witness as few of us are on the water at this time (38F water is still a bit chilly for a swim or paddle).

Vermont’s first loon reported loon nest 2014: The Woodward loon pair has established their territory and had started nesting as of May 15. Thanks to Bob Tucker, a VCE loon volunteer in central Vermont, for that report.
Eric Hanson

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