Friday, August 15, 2014

Pecking Order

Adult Loon near the lily pads
No young Loons this year, here at the end of the road. Our resident pair of Loons hatched two chicks, but one only lasted one week and the other lasted two. So the adults have been free-floating this summer, appearing and disappearing at will, and even tolerating a few visiting Loons from time to time.

Because they aren't tied down to the marsh this year, which they use as a nursery to raise their young, the adult Loons have been spending more time on our side of the lake as summer wears down. And having resident Loons with time on their hands is causing strife in the neighborhood.

Juvenile Hooded Merganser
Many of the neighborhood ducks hang out on this side of the lake specifically to avoid the bad-ass Loons. Twice as big as our largest ducks, the Loons are territorial while nesting and chase other Loons off the lake. But now that they're not nesting or raising young, the Loons have turned their attention to the ducks, especially the little diving ducks that eat the same food.

The juvenile Hooded Mergansers feed in a narrow opening between our shoreline and the lily pad thicket. Feeding quietly, or resting on a log, they'll suddenly explode out of the water and rush to shore, facing towards the lily pads. This is our cue to search for the hidden Loon.

Eventually a skulking Loon surfaces like a submarine just beyond the lily pads, or even in the middle of the thicket. Earlier this week, our favorite neighbors saw a Loon apparently grab a Merganser from underwater, as the Hoody exploded towards shore and the Loon suddenly appeared where the duck had been.

We don't attribute the ability to rationalize to birds, and this is just considered normal behavior. The Loons aren't mean or angry or frustrated, they're just doing what their hard-wired brains tell them to do. And the Mergansers who survive these encounters will be the ones to pass along their genes for vigilant behavior. Just the natural pecking order here at the end of the road.