How Does a Loon Find a Breeding Territory?

On the face of it, locating a suitable breeding territory would seem easy. There are many lakes in Oneida County — or protected bays within large lakes — that contain nesting habitat usable by loons. In fact, one of the great puzzles we are trying to solve is “Why do so many adult loons fail to claim available territories?” One answer to this question seems to relate to habitat. Many loons, as we have learned recently, settle on lakes that resemble their natal lake in two respects: physical size and pH. That is, loons hatched and reared on tiny, acidic lakes settle to breed on tiny, acidic lakes. Second, loons looking for territories snoop around in late summer in one year to look for territories with chicks and then seek to evict the same-sexed breeder from those territories the next year. So loons seem not to be willing to settle on any old potential territory. Rather, they want to settle on one that has familiar habitat characteristics and/or has a record of producing chicks.