Highland Lake Loon Chick Loses Its Fight for Life

Pom-Pom's death saddened lake residents

By Donna Baker-Hartwell
Highland Lake resident Ally Resch caught this picture of the now deceased loon chick, named Pom-Pom, cuddling up to its mother on the Fourth of July. They were seen watching the boat parade pass by from a distance. The loon chick is believed to have succumbed to an unknown disease.

Highland Lake’s nesting pair of loons chose a safe spot this year to nest. The east side of the island and within the No Wake area of the Narrows is typically quieter and protected from waves. 

On June 26, one chick was seen swimming alongside an adult and sitting on the adult’s back. For several more days the loons stayed close to the nest as the adults waited for the second egg to hatch. But, alas the egg did not hatch, and eventually the loon family of three abandoned it. Phil Keefe, the Lake Sunapee Loon biologist, picked up the egg for testing.

Things appeared to be going well for the single chick as it grew before our eyes the first week. The Better-Reed family affectionately named him/her Pom-Pom. On July 10, several people observed an intruding adult loon that was seen fighting with one of our adult loons. 

This is not unusual for “visiting” loons from other lakes or loons that have yet to claim a lake territory or mate to do. They are a threat to chicks and adult loons and have been known to fatally fight for a mate and attack chicks. This very scenario happened on Pleasant Lake a week before, and their single chick has gone missing.

The following day, after a noisy night of loon calls and emails, phone calls began coming in to our Loon News recipients with concern about the chick. It appeared that the adults had stashed (hidden) their chick along the west shore near Turtle Cove. 

After consulting with Phil, it was decided to wait and see if the adults return, which they did, but the chick was in bad shape. About noon on July 11, Pom-Pom was seen floating lifeless. Volunteers retrieved the body and Phil picked it up. 

At 15 days old, Pom-Pom was approximately 1 lb. 10 oz. and measured eight inches from chest to tail. The adults were very distressed and spent several days searching and calling for their chick – very sad for all of us.

The New Hampshire Loon Preservation Committee is in the process of determining the cause of death and sampling tissue for lead levels and other possible factors. The story of our loons this summer is a disappointing one but not atypical. Loons face many challenges. 

Statistically, it still stands that 50% of eggs laid will hatch and 50% of chicks survive the first summer. Phil did say that a single chick has a much better chance of survival due to having two adults watching over it. Single chicks have an 80% chance of survival.

The invading loon has not been reported to be present on the lake but could likely return. On July 17, the statewide loon census was held, and during the one hour observation period, only our two adult loons were present. 

It is too late for them to attempt another nest.  Hopefully, they will have a peaceful rest of the season and nest again next year.

To join the New Hampshire Loon Preservation Committee, visit Loon.org.  To receive Loon News emails about Highland Lake loon activity, e-mail DonnaBH@nulltds.net.