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What Makes a Good Loon Territory?

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Thanks to Cornell graduate student Jay Magers (top) and Dr. Walter Piper (just above), who share their research with us. Walter Piper reminds us:
"It's a great battle in a loon's life—whether female or male—to first acquire a territory and then hold on to that territory over time, despite many intruders coming in and trying to take its territory away."

These are some things that make a good loon territory:

  • Plenty of fish
  • Clean, clear water for chasing fish visually
  • Islands for nests
  • Deeply indented bays and little coves for hiding
  • Not too much development (houses and other human disturbances) along the shoreline

Jay Magers sent us the following four topographic maps of lakes in Wisconsin where he and Dr. Walter Piper study loons. The maps are all drawn to the same scale, so you can tell which lakes are bigger and which are smaller. The tiny black squares represent human buildings (usually houses or cabins). You can't tell from a map how many fish are in it, but you should be able to see some information that will indicate that some lakes are better for loons than others. Answer the following questions:

  1. If you were very stressed to see humans, which would be the worst lake for you? The best? Give some reasons for your choices.
  2. Which lake has the most hidden coves for fishing in privacy? Which has the least?
  3. Which lake has the most islands?
  4. Every circle of topographic lines shows changes in elevation or depth. Which lake appears to be the deepest?
  5. If you were a hungry young loon without your own territory and there were already loons on all four lakes, which would be the easiest to sneak into for a quick fishing expedition without resident loons noticing?

If you were a loon flying over these lakes, which one would look like the best choice for your territory? List the features it has that would probably make it a good nesting site. Which lake do you think is least likely to have loons nesting? Why?

Birch Lake
Cunard Lake
Mildred Lake
Wind Pudding Lake

Try This! Journaling Questions
  • Which of these lakes look most appealing for you as a human? If you lived on a lake, would you prefer one that had other humans nearby, or one that did not?
  • Make up a story about how one of these lakes got its name.
  • Imagine you're a loon spending your first night on your brand new territory on Wind Pudding Lake. What adventures might you have? Write a story about your night.

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