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When do loons go for the winter?

Common Loons, like ours on Keoka, leave Waterford for the winter. But they typically don't go too far. Banding and satellite tracking studies show that loons escape the freezing lakes of Maine in late October. They winter off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean from Maine to Rhode Island.

They do not migrate because they feel like it. They are designed to be great swimmers but, this design requires long runways for takeoff. They are heavy birds with large feet and run awkwardly across the water surface for about a quarter of a mile before picking up enough speed to take off. If the lake is covered with ice they cannot lift off and become trapped.

The adult loons migrate first in large groups. The younger loons stay behind until their first flight feathers become long enough to support their weight. They usually stay until just before the lake freezes. Even biologists do not know how the young loons know where to go - one of the mysteries of life. Chicks return to their birth lake about three or four years later and are not able to reproduce until they are about six or seven.

The loons are well equipped for ocean living. The have salt glands in their skull between their eyes that remove the salt from the water and fish they eat and excrete it from ducts in their beak. The loons group together, ride the waves, and hunt in shallow water. Their beautiful black and white Keoka attire is replaced by a duller, winter coat. In late winter they will lose all of their feathers and get a new set of black and white feathers design for flying.

Take a moment to wish our pair of babies a good journey!

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