Around July Fourth, look out for loon chicks
When you’re out on the lake this summer, you might hear a familiar call echoing across the water — that’s the call of the common loon.
Just don’t get too loony over loons, says Harry Vogel, senior biologist and executive director of the Loon Preservation Committee in Moultonborough, N.H.
This year, July Fourth festivities are occurring in the middle of loon chick hatching season. The preservation group is urging people to stay at least 150 feet away from loons and their chicks to protect them.
Newly hatched chicks are small and dark in color, which makes it hard for people to see them while engaging in recreational activities around and on the lake.
“Many loon pairs will either have very young chicks or still be on the nest over the July Fourth week,” Vogel said.
The lake-bound water birds resemble ducks, but they are far from it, Vogel said. They are closer in relation to penguins. During the summer, they can be identified by their shiny black head and bill, small red eyes, and distinctive calls — tremolo, wail, yodel, and hoot.
Vogel says the peak time for loon nesting is “a really terrible time” for loon chicks to be born.
“Every year we lose a number of them to collisions with boats and jet skis,” he said.
According to the Loon Preservation Committee, of the 168 loons that were hatched in New Hampshire in 2017, 25 percent of them did not survive. This year, the group is hopeful the outcome will be better — but that depends on the public keeping a respectful distance.
“There’s only one way to get close to a loon family on the water, and that’s with a good pair of binoculars,” Vogel said.
Fun facts about loons:
■ They are a threatened species in New Hampshire.
■ No one knows how long they live, but the best guess is between 20 and 30 years
■ Females don’t begin to breed until they are six or seven years old or older, and typically only have one or two chicks.
■ They can fly, but they can’t take off from land — it can take them up to a quarter-mile running start across the surface of the water to get airborne.
■ In the summer, females have flashier plumage to attract mates, but in the winter their feathers change to an inconspicuous gray.
■ They eat fish, crayfish, clams, and even small lobsters
■ Despite their appearance, they are more closely related to penguins and albatrosses than ducks and waterfowl.
■ In the summer they stay on freshwater lakes, but when lakes freeze in winter they migrate to the ocean.
Source: Harry Vogel, Loon Preservation Committee