Bonus Chicks on Little Bearskin

The hatch is underway. 2023 was a miserable year for black flies. But loon pairs that laid eggs in mid-May and kept incubating them despite fly harassment are getting their reward this week. Granted, this reward comes in the form of one or two tiny puffballs that need continual warming, must be protected from a host of predators from above and below, require gentle handling, and can only consume tiny food items offered patiently and gingerly. But such is the reward.

We are especially excited about the two chicks hatched in the past few days on Little Bearskin Lake in the Wisconsin Study Area. Why? Two reasons. First, with an estimated age of 34 years, the mother of these chicks is our oldest study animal. Second, our team happened to capture this female two years ago and discover that she was injured and ailing after getting entangled in fishing line. Our rescue of this ancient female allowed her to rear a chick with her mate in that year and another last year. If she is able to raise the two chicks just hatched with the same male, she will — in our view — have produced four “bonus chicks” above what would have been possible without her disentanglement. The ability to witness several of our study animals resume breeding after cheating death with our help is one of the joys of our work.

“Two chicks on Little Bearskin?”, you say. “I just see one in the photo.” Indeed, Linda Grenzer captured this picture of the single chick that just hatched on Crystal Lake near Tomahawk. I like the way the chick seems baffled at the distance between itself and its nearby parent. (“Why have you left me here?”)

Do not despair if your loons are still on eggs or not nesting. Little Bearskin, Crystal, and a handful of other pairs are among the intrepid few in Wisconsin that survived the barrage of flies undaunted and will hatch this week.

While most of our Wisconsin loon pairs were forced to abandon their first nesting attempts, Minnesota loons in Crow Wing and Cass Counties tended to respond to fly harassment by postponing their first breeding efforts. Hence, the bulk of our Minnesota pairs began incubating during the last few days of May or first week of June. However, a small number of stalwart pairs in Minnesota laid in mid- to late-May and hung in there during the fly weeks. Those pairs — which include Kimball-East, Kimball-West, Little Star, Big Trout-West, Ossie-Boozer’s, and Ossie-Timberlane — should hatch in the next week to ten days, if all goes well.

We are still hopeful for a solid breeding year for both study areas. Fortunately, loons follow the same philosophy that humans do when it comes to setbacks. When you get punched in the mouth, you don’t stay down. You get back up and see to your business.