The black head, blood red eyes, and striped collar are all prominent markers of some of Maine’s most famous residents- the Common Loons (Gavia Immer). Common Loons are large, diving water birds. Loons are synonymous with human understanding of wilderness. John Muir once claimed the call of the loon as “one of the wildest and most striking of all the wilderness sounds”. It is these calls that are particularly well known; both the mournful wail, and the more musical yodels used by males in the species to communicate.
Calls such as these dot the lakes and ponds of Maine during the spring and summer as mature loons return from the ocean to mate and nest for the season. During the mating season loons remain alert and territorial. Successful pairs can lay between 1-3 eggs and both the male and the female play an active part in the incubation. Chicks will enter the water on their first day of birth, but as those muscles are developing for 1-2 weeks the parents will carry the chicks on their backs.
Loons dine primarily on small fish, but will also consume leeches, snails, and crustaceans. To break apart these shelled organisms, loons will swallow small rocks and store them inside their gizzard. Other ways loons have learned to adapt to their riparian habitats, includes the placement of their strong back legs. Powerful back legs allow loons to dive over 100 feet below the water and swim long distances in both oceans and lakes. However, with their legs placed do far back on their body it is challenging for loons to walk upright- in fact the term “loon” comes from a word meaning clumsy.
Every year, common loons return to Acadia and its many ponds and lakes to feast on abundant food sources and rear their young. While Acadia offers a prime location for nesting challenges still arise. Loons tend to make their nests right at the water's edge, often in soft areas where they create a nest "cup." Although this makes entering the water quick and easy for when the breeding loon needs a snack or shelter, this can also cause conflicts with another animal that likes waterfront access: humans. A loon nest can often be vulnerable to disturbance by humans in places where we like to swim, kayak or boat, or hike, which can result in the loon pair abandoning their nest.
In Acadia, and with our partners Somes-Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary and friends, we are trying to find a compromise in places where the public enjoys the pristine water resources of Mount Desert Island. For the past several years, loons have attempted to nest near Echo Lake Beach, a popular swimming beach in the park. This year, Somes Meynell Sanctuary and park biologists introduced a covered raft for the loon pair to use in an area that has been closed off to public access with buoys. The raft is designed to appear like a marsh platform with protection on three sides to discourage predators.
We need your help to protect loons and their nests. When you visit Echo Lake Beach, please enjoy the loons at a respectful distance: swim well away from the buoys, keep several boat lengths between you and the loons when boating, and always keep your dog(s) leashed at all times. With your help we may see more loons successfully nest, hatch, and fledge in Acadia.
Last updated: November 30, 2018