Blue Confusion

For the past several years, we have covered Blue Lake, which contains two loon territories: Blue-West and Blue-Southeast. Blue-Southeast is the more productive territory. In fact, it has produced chicks for the past 3 years. A few nights ago, we captured and banded the two chicks and female from Blue-Southeast. We thought nothing amiss in finding the chicks with only one parent; it is common during both day and night for either male or female to watch over the chicks while its mate wanders off to feed on its own.

What was odd that night was that, on our trip to return the Blue-Southeast female and chicks to their territory, we blundered upon a banded loon pair where none should have been in an area that might be called “Blue-Central”. We captured one of this new pair (a six year-old female hatched on Franklin Lake, some 40 miles east). The other pair member, it seems, was the male from Blue-Southeast! While it is tempting to make some tawdry comment here about the skirt-chasing tendencies of males, this was not a case of the Blue-Southeast male cavorting with another female while his mate cared for the chicks. In fact, the new Blue-Central male had been evicted from Blue-Southeast several days before, which forced him to leave his chicks in the care of his mate and the male that had evicted him. Moreover, reports of a banded and injured bird on Blue in the few days prior to our visit lead us to believe that the vanquished male had been seriously injured in the battle that cost him his territory and separated him from his mate and chicks. (Clearly he had recovered from his wounds by the time of our visit.)

The current situation on Blue-Southeast is a bit worrisome and quite similar to that on Flannery Lake. There too, the territorial male was lost during chick-rearing, forcing the female to care for the chicks alone, while seeking to re-pair with a new male. On Flannery, a new territorial male killed one of small chicks — though the other is alive and now 6 weeks old. On Blue-Southeast, the chicks were far older at the time of eviction, but a recent visit by Seth revealed that the new male (sadly, an unbanded bird) is paired with the female and is pecking at the large, healthy chicks and not feeding them. Based on past observations, we hope and expect that these chicks are old and strong enough to mature and fledge despite their step-dad’s hostility, providing their mother continues to feed them. However, the awkwardness of a mother-stepfather pair with chicks seems to have consequences. The Flannery chick, captured and weighed a few nights ago, has far lower body mass than he should for his age. Let’s keep fingers crossed that the Blue-Southeast chicks, which are strapping youngsters at present and live on a large lake with a strong record of fledging chicks, can weather this parental storm.