Leech Lake, Muskoka

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Thursday, May 03, 2012

Loons On Leech Lake

We are a few weeks away from the ice break up on Leech Lake. Our loons normally return to Leech Lake within hours or days of the ice going out.

It is a possibility that no loons will return to Leech Lake in 2012. We hope not, but we can’t be sure so we wanted to sensitize all residents and cottagers to the issues and ask for your help.

You are no doubt aware we lost an adult loon in 2010 and again in 2011. The 2011 death was a male. We are not certain of the gender of the adult which passed away in 2010, but we believe it was a female. In both cases, the loons had swallowed fishing lures and hooks. An examination of the male loon that died in 2011 indicated that the loon died as a result of lead poisoning. At the end of the 2011 season, Leech Lake had just one adult loon, a female. We hope this female returns to Leech Lake this year and finds a new mate. It had been assumed that loons mate for life, however there is recent evidence challenging this theory.. The belief now is that loons may be as attached to the nesting lake as they are to their mates.

Twenty years ago we had four loons on Leech Lake until one died in the mid 90’s by getting tangled in fishing line. For many years we had three adult loons on the lake with one nesting pair.

In 2010 and again in 2011, one chick survived to grow into adolescence. One or both of these may return to Leech Lake, but that will not occur until 2013. Young loons, if they survive the journey south, do not return north until 3 years of age. So it is possible that we may have only one loon on Leech Lake in 2012, if any. Nature is amazing, so perhaps this is a process of renewal. Older loons die off so that younger ones can inherit the lake.

We are asking for your assistance to help ensure that loons thrive on Leech Lake. We will be posting signs on the nesting island asking people to be sensitive to the delicate process of breeding and nurturing loon eggs and chicks. We recommend the use of lead free sinkers. Loon Watch recommends that fishing within 100 meters of the nesting island should be discouraged. They also recommend that fishing should not be done within 100 meters when loons are present. Loon Watch has loon-friendly fishing kits available from their website. Try, wherever possible, to retrieve snagged hooks or lures. In particular, if a small fish is caught which has swallowed a hook, please encourage everyone around your cottage not to clip the line and throw the fish back. These fish are easily caught bye loons and swallowed.

We cannot be certain that the fishing gear swallowed by loons actually occurred on Leech Lake. But we should all pull together to be as sure as possible that we are not contributing to the problem.

We will also be posting a sign at the boat launch encouraging cottagers and guests to lend a hand to the preservation of our most valued natural neighbor.

Some other interesting loon facts:

• There are an estimated 65,000 pairs of loons in Ontario

• Loons can dive to a depth of 70 meters and remain submerged for up to 3 minutes

• An average dive is 40-45 seconds and 5 meters in depth

• Nesting takes place in May & June

• A productive nest will have 2 eggs taking 28 days to incubate

• Chicks emerge from the egg ready to swim within an hour

• Less than 50% of lakes produce young loons each year

• 25% of loon mortality in breeding season are caused by fishing weights (MNR)

• Loons can live up to 30 years

• Average wingspan is 1.2 meters

• Average length is 80 cm’s

• Males, on average weigh 5.5 kg’s / females about 4.5 kg’s on average

• Nesting pairs take turns on the eggs

• In winter, loons turn a dull grey colour

• A loon will put its head down in water and flatten body to signal that intruders are too close to the nest

• A penguin type dance on the water indicates you are too close

• A startled loon may accidentally kick eggs out of nest

• Loons begin to gather in small groups prior to fall migration. Loons which did not breed gather first

• Migration is actually done singularly or in small groups rather than flocks

• Adults migrate first leaving youngster to fly south on their own

• Loons are protected by the Migratory Bird Act(U.S)

• Unattached loons may visit a lake with a territorial pair 2-5 times / day

• Regular evictions of territorial males or females apparently occur

• Lakes which have produced chicks are highly attractive to “floaters”

• 1/3rd of fights between males result in death and can last up to 45 minutes

• Loon beaks are powerful and can pierce the breast of an opponent

• If a nesting site is unsuccessful a new site will be chosen by the male

• Young adults of 3-4 years of age will almost always try to establish territory on vacant lakes

• The loon “hoot” acknowledges contact as loons approach one another

• The tremolo is a danger or distress signal to move to safety

• The “yodel” is done by males and is a territorial signal

• The “wail” indicates a willingness to interact, somewhat like a wolf call

• A pair of adults with two youngsters require an astounding ton of food during the nesting season

• Loons will sometimes spend up to 10 minutes orienting a caught fish to be swallowed head first

• Eggs weigh around 3.5% of the females’ body weight and require the exertion of a tremendous amount of energy. All the more reason to stay clear so they do not have to be concerned about intruders

• Eggs are laid up to 3 days apart because of the amount of energy it consumes


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