Friday, April 04, 2008

Say It Ain't So


Long ago, I had a job working in Algonquin Park. Every night we had a ritual in camp, we'd start a fire and relax while the sun went down, sitting lakeside, everything became peaceful and calm. Amazing moments. Anyone who has enjoyed the Canadian outdoors has heard the call of loons, in fact it's those type of experiences that draw.

Anyways, needless to say I was pretty shocked to read today, that those beautiful loons, with their haunting calls, so serene and poignant, are actually engaged in staggering acts of violence. Not exactly the visual I prefer, the loon call denoting a potential fight to the death, with the goal to pierce the heart of the opponent:
Loons, those serene emblems of peaceful wilderness lakes, are emerging in modern research as bloodthirsty attackers that drive out or kill their neighbours and take over the rivals' families.

And that lovely, haunting call? It's often a prelude to a fight. Sometimes a fight to the death, if one loon can dive under its rival and stab that sharp beak up into its heart....

The two birds beat each other with powerful wings and try to drown each other, but one bird inevitably gives up before either is killed.

Males, though, fight to the death in about 30 per cent of cases, in a savage fight that can last all day. For unknown reasons, he says, it's always the resident bird that is killed in these cases.

If the attacking male or female wins, it moves in to stay and takes over the mate of the defeated rival.

Basically, that beautiful loon call that denotes a perfect evening, or morning, is the prelude to attempted murder. In other words, the call of the loon, is the equivalent of hearing gunshots, something very bad is happening.

The outdoors will never be the same :)

9 comments:

900 ft Jesus said...

shocker! I won't argue with the researcher who doubtlessly knows far more than I do, but I used to watch loons for hours, even as they called, and never once notice any aggressive behaviour.

Sneaky bastards! (I still love them)

Steve V said...

" but I used to watch loons for hours, even as they called, and never once notice any aggressive behaviour."

Ditto. I guess they like to fly close to the lake surface, because that way their opponent can't get underneath for the beak kill ;)

Canajun said...

Sneaky bastards is right. Who knew? (Well, except for this researcher.)
We live on a small lake that has had a mating pair for years. And the spring gatherings of 6 or 7 loons that I always thought were purely social events were probably much more nefarious affairs than I ever expected.
Nonetheless, can't wait to hear that first cry of the season - soon now, I hope.

knb said...

If it's a female, there can be a scuffle with the local female. The two birds beat each other with powerful wings and try to drown each other, but one bird inevitably gives up before either is killed.

Males, though, fight to the death in about 30 per cent of cases, in a savage fight that can last all day.


What is it with guy's? ;)

Boy, that was not an article I wanted to read.

I live by a lake, but it's called Ontario and I haven't seen a loon, (a real one) in years.

I'm not prepared to let go of my memories of loons on small lakes, but I do wonder with awe about this intricate system that we inhabit.

Randy M. - Algonquin Outfitters said...

Unfortunatly I don't think Tom is a Loon research.. correct, he is that loons will fight to defend their territory.. pretty much every animal on the face of the planet, including us humans will. Pierce their rival throught the heart with their sharp beak, I don't think so.. you know how hard it would be for any bird to dive under another bird and pierce it through the heart with it's beak, pretty much impossible. That's the problem when you have news paper writers stating the facts, they get paid to sensationalize and almost always blur the facts with fiction.

Randy M. - Algonquin Outfitters said...

You may want to visit the Science behind Algonquin's Animals webpage, which is presented by actual animal research being conducted in the park.
http://www.sbaa.ca/projects.asp?cn=303
About the loon's calls: "Common Loons are best known for their yodel, hoot, wail and tremolo calls heard by many Park visitors. However, the first sound that loons make is a 'peep-peep-peep' that is given by chicks when they are still inside the egg. Loons use their more commonly heard vocalizations for a variety of purposes. For example, the hoot call is used as a contact call as birds approach one another. The tremolo signals distress and may urge loons to move to safety. The yodel is used in territorial disputes, essentially stating to any loons close by - "This is our territory!" Finally, the wail indicates a willingness to interact and is used to reestablish contact between individuals when they have been separated."

Steve V said...

Randy

I don't think the researchers just made it up, for good print. That said, I've never witnessed anything that resembles violence, so maybe it is over-stated.

Randy M. - Algonquin Outfitters said...

Well, never happy with what people print in newspapers I contacted the local loon research (still to hear back from Algonquin's Loon research), and also Mr Walcott.

Mr Walcott reply was "Dear Mr. Mitson,

It comes from several sources. Dr Mark Pokras of the Tufts veterinary center has autopsied literally thousands of dead loons and reports that a significant number died from a puncture wound to the heart. We had no idea why. My colleague, Walter Piper and I have observed male loon fights that left one of the males (always the resident male, never the intruder) dead. In at least two cases it was due to these puncture wounds inflicted by the intruding male. What happens is that the intruding male comes up, beak first, underneath the resident. I think that is the reason that loons are very nervous when an intruder dives.

But this is, statistically, a rare occurrence. I hope this helps! Charlie"

Hard to believe but I'm not a researcher. This research is taking place in the states and not Algonquin. Although it may indeed be on the same loons that inhabit Algonquin Park, I can't imagine a loon piercing another loon through the heart with it's beak.

Mr Walcott's comments on the residential loon always being the one who dies in a fight to the death makes more sense to me as the residential loon would be more likely to fight until the end as he is defending his territory and maybe even a brood of chicks. The invading loon would most likely give up and move on hoping to find another more easy target to steal some territory from.

Steve V said...

randy

That's great feedback.