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Common Loon Migration Update: April 8, 1999

Today's Report Includes:

Ready or Not--Here They Come!
Common Loon Migration, 1999

Loons are on the move! This week's Loon Migration Data shows a strong beginning to the migration. Think about weather patterns and look closely at the map to answer:

Challenge Question # 6
"Can you think of TWO reasons why so many of this week's loon sightings are clustered around the Great Lakes?"
(To respond to this Challenge Question, see below)

Anticipating Ice-Out

Report the first Loon you see this spring to Journey North!

Project Loonwatch in Wisconsin keeps track of loon arrival dates and date of ice-out. So far, in New Auburn, WI, the ice went out on April 2 and loons appeared on April 3. In Minong, WI, the ice went out on April 3 and, sure enough, loons arrived April 4. And in three lakes, in Grantsburg, Mosinee, and Chetek, the loons arrived the very day the ice went out! Loons don't have access to newspaper or TV weather reports. How do they know when the ice is going to go out on a lake? We posted this as a Challenge Question last week but it's a tricky one, so we'll give you another chance to try:

Reminder of Challenge Question # 5
"How do loons manage to time their arrival on a lake for the very day of, or the day after, ice out?"
(To respond to this Challenge Question, see below)

A Day in Life of A Migrating Loon

Loon in breeding plumage
Photo: Woody Haage

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!

Challenge Question # 7
If a loon can migrate 10 hours a day at an average speed of 60 mph, how many places would one need to stop between the Gulf coast of Florida and the south shore of Lake Michigan?
(To respond to this Challenge Question, see below)

Flying Agape!
Kerlinger's observations of migrating loons in New Jersey in September, and our Journey North science writer's observations of migrating loons in Wisconsin in April, reveal a surprising fact: Loons often migrate with their mouths wide open! Any ideas why?

Challenge Question # 8

"Why do you think migrating loons frequently fly with their mouths open?"
(To respond to this Challenge Question, see below)

Discussion of Challenge Question # 4
We asked you to "Name some possible reasons why loons don't winter on inland lakes."

The biggest reason for loons leaving their breeding lakes is that they freeze up. As Sandy, one of our northern readers put it, "The water's too hard!"

So why don't loons go farther south, where they lakes won't freeze? Partly because there is a whole new set of dangers on those lakes. As fifth graders Krista, Lindsey, and Jessica explained, "Loons do not winter on inland lakes because there are alligators in the small marshes and lake areas." They added, "Also because the lakes and marshes are a lot shallower compared to our lakes in Ontario." That shallowness, and the warmth of the water, allow southern lakes to grow many more plants than northern lakes, providing good hideouts and food for fish, but murkier water. Loons need VERY clear, open water for catching fish. So they are at a disadvantage compared to herons, grebes, and other fish-eating birds in southern lakes. The ocean is the right place for them, at least in winter!

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Question

Please respond to only on Challenge Question in each e-mail response.
1. Address an e-mail message to:
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #5 OR #6 OR # 7 OR #8
3. In the body of your message, answer the question.

The Next Loon Migration Update Will be Posted on April 22, 1999

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