Wed. Nov 29th, 2023
Loons are like campers: they love their park!

`In today’s post, Sarah Wiebe, senior naturalist at Kettle Lakes Provincial Park, shows us that loons and campers aren’t all that different.

Like many families, the Common Loons choose Kettle Lakes as the place to stay with their family during the summer.

You could say that loon families love parks as much as we do!

Like many visitors, I grew up visiting parks and spent every summer of my childhood exploring shores and lakes.

I spent hours making sand castles in Arrowhead Provincial Park, splashing in the water at Balsam Lake Provincial Park, going fishing in Massasauga Provincial Park, and paddling through Algonquin Provincial Park.

I can easily say that I love parks.

As I watched a family of loons return to the lake near our staff home in Kettle Lakes this spring, it got me thinking about how loons also like to spend their summers in Ontario parks.

Watching the loons, I realized that loons love parks as much as we do.

Just like us, loon families have favorite parks and traditions.

Like campers returning to their favorite parks, loons will return to the same lake year after year.

This is called site loyalty.

loon in flight

The loons are just as excited as we are to get to the park and prepare their “site” for the season.

When I arrived at the park this year, the ice was still on the lake and (of course) there weren’t any loons in sight!

But as soon as the ice melted, the loons appeared there!

They planned their stay five months in advance just like us, but from their winter homes in the south, along the Atlantic coast.

Loons swimming in the lake

Once they get to the park, they are very talkative.

Males use their yodeling to establish their territory. It’s like when you walk into the check-in gate and tell the gate staff, “Camping 120 is our campsite every year! It’s the best place in the park!

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Loons have other calls such as hooting, which they use to locate family members.

loons in the water

Moaning is like when your family laughs around the campfire; It’s a social call between crazy people!

They also have a warning call called a tremolo, which is like when your mom says, “Don’t touch the hot campfire!” or “Don’t forget your life jacket!”

We all have special adaptations.

On camping trips, my dad always wants to get up at dawn and go fishing.

So we pack our fishing rods, tackle boxes, nets and pliers on a fishing boat (usually not this early in the morning as we’re not really early risers) hoping to catch the biggest fish.

canoe on the lake

Loons come prepared too! They also like to fish and are specially designed for it.

Loons have large fin-like legs that help them swim fast.

They are built for diving, with solid bones that help them stay underwater (unlike other birds that have hollow bones to fly more easily) and can empty their lungs of air.

Loons can slow their heart rate to conserve oxygen and flatten their feathers to reduce drag, allowing them to dive up to 80 meters deep!

A loon floating in a lake.

They have large, pointed bills with spikes on the inside that help them hold onto slippery fish.

On a fishing weekend, sometimes my mom, dad, sister and I would be lucky enough to catch some nice fish.

But a family of grebes with two adults and two chicks can catch up to half a ton of fish during the summer! That’s the weight of two large refrigerators or an adult bull moose!

It pays to come with the right equipment!

Loonlet feeding the loon

Grebes eat small fish such as minnows and perch. They also eat leeches, aquatic insects and frogs.

Some think that fishermen compete with grebes for fish, but in reality grebes are part of the food chain and help create balance. They really don’t care much about that trophy fish you want to catch in Lake Hughes.

Kettle Lakes attracts campers and loons alike!

Kettle Lakes lies within the Great Clay Belt, a strip of fertile land in northeastern Ontario and northwestern Quebec, created by a vast glacial lake about 8,000 years ago.

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This region has many long, wide rivers, but only a few large lakes such as Lake Nighthawk, Lake Timiskaming, and Lake Abitibi.

Kettle Lakes is different.

Kettle lake with ferns in the foreground

Kettle Lakes and some other protected areas in the region, such as Esker Lakes Provincial Park, are known for their numerous small, deep, protected lakes called kettles.

These lakes are great places for paddling, fishing, and swimming, and the loons agree! Loons prefer to nest in lakes between five and 50 hectares.

Loons spend most of their time in the water and only leave the water a short distance to build their nest using sticks, reeds and grasses. Once their nest is built, they lay two eggs.

loon nest

Cared for and fed by both parents, young loons leave the nest in 1 to 2 days and can go underwater in 2 to 3 days.

They often ride on their parents’ backs when they are young. Loons do not fly until they are at least 10 weeks old; They focus on living in the water first!

Loon parents nest in smaller lakes, as their eggs will not survive if the nest is flooded with water or waves.

loon with loon on its back

Baby grebes need calm waters to grow, as they can easily be swamped by large waves while learning to swim. The park’s tranquil lakes are the perfect learning area for crazy youngsters!

Protect the park for future generations (both humans and loons!)

At Kettle Lakes we really love our lakes and our loons.

That is why we participate in projects such as Canadian Lake Loon Survey each year, helping us discover more about these summer residents and what we can do to help them.

By being community scientists, visitors can help protect the lakes we all love and the loons that depend on those lakes to survive.

We can also help protect our loon neighbors:

  • using lead-free fishing tackle
  • keep soap and other foreign chemicals out of the water
  • giving space to loon nests and families when they are in the water
  • report sightings to park staff
  • Using cool nature apps like eBird and iNaturalist!

Parks like Kettle Lakes hold special memories for our families, like catching that first fish or listening to the songs of loons at night.

Let’s do what we can to help protect the parks for all families, including our feathered friends.