Living with Loons
Common Loons hold a special place in the hearts and minds of all who see and hear them. Their striking plumage, soulful cries and ability to seemingly vanish under water have inspired legends of magic, mysticism, and creation for many centuries. Even today, few can hear the cry of a loon drift across a dusky lake without feeling a connection to an ancient and wild spirit.
We, as users of the lake, are in the loon's territory. There are laws that protect their safety, primarily prohibiting the use of lead fishing supplies and respecting the 200' no-wake zone near shore.
Maine Audubon sponsors an annual loon count. From 7:00 to 7:30 am of the third Saturday of July each year, over 1,000 volunteers venture onto lakes and ponds across the state to count loons. The observations recorded by citizen scientist volunteers provide an excellent “snapshot” of Maine’s loon population, and the data needed to estimate an accurate population estimate over time. Maine Audubon has also produced useful guides including: Maine Loon Guide and Living in Loon Territory.
On Keoka Lake, Andy Tabor launches the loon nest each spring. The males fly north, following the ice melt, often making a flyover to check whether the ices has gone out. They are followed by the females a week or two later and courting begins immediately. Contrary to popular belief, loons do not mate for life but, a pair bond does last about seven years.
Females usually lay two eggs between mid-May and mid-June. Both parents incubate the eggs for about 29 days. The chicks can swim right after hatching and the family leaves the nest for a nursery area. After only a week, the chicks can dive short distances and start catching some of their own food. Mortality rate is high and, on average, only one in four chicks survive the summer. Our careful protection of the loons has given Keoka a 100% survival rate of two chicks in 2018. Loons are long-lived and the oldest known nesting loon is over 30 years old.
In late August adult loons gather in flock; parents abandon the young chicks while adults feed together in large rafts and then head to the ocean for the winter. Juveniles also flock together and head for the ocean just before the fall freeze.