Common Loon Migration Update: April 9, 1998
Today's Migration News & Data
The invasion of inland lakes is underway! Loon landings have been reported from 53 sites since our last update:
Following the arrival of the first loon in Madison, Wisconsin on March 26th, Alan Schwoegler has watched loon numbers climb each day:
A Day in Life of Migrating Loon
For a bird that can't walk on land--or take off without a 200-300 meter runway--overland migration presents some challenges. As they fly from the oceans to their nesting grounds on inland lakes, stopover points are critical to loons. Because the Great Lakes are ice-free in early spring, these sites are some of the first places loons appear in the spring. Loons migrate so high and so fast their passage goes almost unnoticed, says author Paul Kerlinger ("How Birds Migrate", Stackpole Books, 1995). According to his estimates, loons migrate 3,000-5,000 feet high and fly with air speeds usually exceeding 40 mph. But with the help of tailwinds they can travel more than 75 mph--and some people estimate as fast as 100 mph!
Kerlinger's own observations of migrating loons in New Jersey in September revealed a surprising fact: Loons often migrate with their mouths wide open! Any ideas why?
Eleven Year-Old Loon Returns!
Along with the loons, biologists Joe Kaplan and Keren Tischler also flew back from the wintering grounds last week. Joe checked in with their colleagues at Seney National Wildlife Refuge on Michigan's Upper Peninsula and heard this exciting news:
"The first loon of the season was reported from Seney on April 7. It was a male loon that had been banded as a chick in 1987 --so it is 11 years old.
"This loon has been returning to this refuge for a number of years, but has never held a breeding territory. Last year, following a nest failure of long-established male, this bird took over a pond known as "E-pool". After a considerable amount of courting with the E-pool female (who stayed in the territory) and fighting with another unbanded male, it
looked like this loon may have established himself. Then, the E-pool female appeared disinterested and began wandering the refuge and participating in gatherings with other loons.
"Now that this 'new' male has returned this season to a new territory it should make for interesting drama. The male loon that left the territory last year, following a nest failure, had been on E-pool since at least 1987. We wonder if he will make any effort to regain this territory after holding it for so long? Will he even return? Stay tuned..."
If the love life of loons at Seney sounds like T.V., it's because the details of their lives have been more carefully observed there than anywhere on earth. The refuge is like a laboratory for studying loon behavior. Through concentrated banding efforts --along with careful visual observations --Kaplan and other biologists are learning important details that have never been known before.
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The Next Loon Migration Update will Be Posted on April 23, 1998.
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