During the summer, loons frequent the Saganaga Lake bay outside Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. In 2011, loons began nesting in the bay on an artificial nesting platform installed by Chik-Wauk volunteers in May of that same year.
Chik-Wauk uses a Biohaven Floating Island constructed of durable, non-toxic post-consumer plastic and planted with native water plants. The island is left in the bay year-round. The floating island replaced a handmade PVC platform used in 2011. The platform protects the loons from many predators, although once the chicks hatch, the loon family becomes vulnerable to eagles,snapping turtles, and northern pike.
Loons usually begin nesting when they’re about six years old. (Loons can live 25-30 years.) The loons pair at Chik-Wauk often lay their first eggs during the third week of May. If the nest is destroyed by a predator, the pair may re-lay in June. Loons usually lay one to two eggs, laying each egg about a day apart. Both parents take turns incubating the olive green, three-inch eggs for about 28 days until the chicks hatch. Disturbance by other wildlife or humans can interrupt incubation and cause a nest to fail or be abandoned.
Because their far set legs make it difficult for them to move on land, loons usually nest close to shore. They prefer to nest on islands for greater protection from predators like skunks, otters, minks, seagulls, crows, ravens, and eagles.
Loons gather food for the chicks and the chicks often ride on their parents’ backs during their first three weeks to conserve their energy and stay warm.
Unlike most birds, loons have solid bones which allow them dive deeply and quickly when looking for food. (Loons eat about two pounds of fish each day!) However, those solid bones make it difficult for loons to become airborne. In fact, loons need a ¼ mile “runway” to take off, which is why they’re usually not found on lakes less than 10 acres in size.
According to Northland College’s LoonWatch, loons use four distinctive calls to communicate: yodel, wail, tremolo, and hoot. Male loons yodel to mark their territory. Loons wail to locate other loons, while the tremolo is used when loons are excited,
disturbed, or looking for clearance from other loons to land on a lake they’re flying over. Loons in close quarters – chicks and parents, mates, and members of a social flock – communicate with soft hoots.
Learn more about loons with the Gunflint Trail Explorers’ Loon information sheet or by attending “The Legendary Loon” presentation on Tuesday, June 17 at 3 p.m. on the Chik-Wauk Museum front porch. When you swing by the museum, be sure to take a good look in the bay to see if you can spy a loon.