Highland Lake Loon Chicks Continue to Grow and Thrive

Flying lessons begin in October for flight to the coast

By Donna Baker-Hartwell
On Highland Lake in East Andover, a loon adult is seen feeding its two chicks. Photo: Donna Baker-Hartwell

As of September 13, our loon chicks are 78 days old. They look almost as big as their parents. 

It has been a successful year for our loon family. I have been keeping a record of the nestings on Highland Lake since the year 2000. Over the past 22 years, we have had 15 chicks that survived until their maiden autumn flight to the coast.

I asked John Cooley Jr., Senior Biologist at the Loon Preservation Committee, how Highland Lake compares to New Hampshire’s average as far as successful chick production. He replied, “We use pairs, nests, chicks, and chick survival to mid-August as the basic parameters, with the focus on hatching success (chicks hatched per nesting pair) and overall chicks surviving per pair (your offspring success). 

“For the long term (1975-2021), about two-thirds of territorial pairs nest each year (67%); each nesting pair hatches about one chick (0.98); about 3 out of 4 chicks survive to mid-August (77%).  So, overall, the long-term average is about one half a chick per pair per year (0.51 chicks surviving /territorial pair). Or, since a half a chick sounds odd, about one chick every two years. 

“From the year 2000, there’s been a pair at Highland every year; a nesting pair in all but four years; and 15 chicks fledged (or surviving to mid-August) over those years. This would give an average of 0.65 chicks surviving per territorial pair for that pair. 

“The statewide average since 2000 has been 0.51 cs/tp (same value as the long-term since 1975), so Highland has been in the enviable subset of relatively productive lakes. These are the ones that sustain the population, really, balancing lower productivity on lakes with less experienced or less lucky loons, or where the habitat is more marginal. So Highland Lake’s chick production is above the state average!”

This summer, the Loon Preservation Committee biologists banded our female adult and the larger of the two chicks. John explains the band color and sequence: “The adult female loon banded on Highland Lake this summer was given a blue band with a white stripe over a silver band on her right leg, and a yellow band with a black stripe over a red band on her left leg. Shorthand for that combination would be left: yellow stripe over red, right: blue stripe over silver. The first band is closer to the body; second band closer to the foot.” 

Our original loon – the male, first banded in 2011 – received new bands of the same color and sequence – left: green stripe over green, right: blue stripe over silver. (Note that the pair have matching right foot bands.) In the attached photo you can see the right leg with a blue Stripe over white. This could be either one of our adults.

Loon Preservation Committee biologists banded the female adult loon and one of the chicks born this summer. This will help to track their travel habits, pairing, life span, and other statistics. Photo: Donna Baker-Hartwell

The larger chick was banded left: white over silver, right: green white dot over white with black stripe.

Loon bands help biologists better understand the loon population, their travel habits, pairing, life span, and more. 

This past month, Eve Hiatt reported a banded loon on Tucker Pond in Salisbury. She sent the band colors and sequence to John Cooley, who was able to conclude that the loon she saw was our adult female! How cool is this? We now know that our loon mother took a break and ventured about eight miles away to check out Tucker Pond.

Through the month of October, the chicks will exercise their wings for take-off. Flying lessons will begin. I hope for those who are able to be on the lake that you have the pleasure of watching some of these attempts and eventual successes. I think landing might be harder than taking off! 

Eventually, the loon family will leave as ice threatens to cover the lake. They will fly to the coast for the winter. The adults will hopefully return next spring, just a day or hours after the ice-out occurs. 

This year’s chicks will spend a few years on the coast maturing until they are ready to return to the lakes and find their own territories and mates.