Banded Loon Pair Returns to Highland Lake on “Ice Out” Day

Chicks could hatch by fourth of July

By Donna Baker-Hartwell
A pair of loons are seen floating on Highland Lake in this photo from 2022. Photo: Donna Baker-Hartwell

Loons returned to Highland Lake on April 11 – the same day as “ICE OUT”. They will be seen coming and going for the next several weeks. Other loons will visit the lake and be scouting for mates and nesting territory. Highland Lake is too small to provide room for more than one nesting pair. We expect that “our” loon pair will maintain control of their territory and, hopefully, nest.

If you have a good pair of binoculars and are lucky enough to see the loons lift a foot out of the water, you will see colored bands around their legs. We can verify that they are “our” pair by the colors of the bands. The male loon has a green stripe over green on his left leg, and a blue stripe over silver on his right leg. The female loon has a yellow stripe over red on her left leg, and blue stripe over silver on her right leg. * Note that they have matching bands on their right legs.

For many years, they have begun nesting by the end of May or first week in June. If they /we are lucky, there is the possibility of chicks hatching before the Fourth of July.

By the time this article is published, buoys could be going up around the nest sight. Readers interested in receiving updates about our loons may join the Loon News email group by sending your name and email information to Donna Baker-Hartwell at

The May, 2023 Loon Preservation Committee Newsletter included the following information under “Loon Fact of the Month – Body Adaptations” Loons have evolved to be highly specialized for life in the water. They have a number of adaptations that minimize resistance and reduce drag, making them fast and agile when swimming and diving and enabling them to be excellent fishers. Anyone who has seen a loon in the water knows how impressive their swimming ability is. It is not uncommon for a loon to dive and resurface hundreds of feet away from where it was last seen, in a short amount of time. What are some of the adaptations that make them so well suited for swimming and diving, and what tradeoffs do these adaptations necessitate?

Unlike most other birds, loons have dense, thick-walled bones. The added weight of these bones helps loons dive deep without having to expend much energy. Loons also have a relatively shallow keel, which helps to minimize drag in the water. Both of these adaptations, while beneficial for life in the water, make it more difficult for loons to fly. A shallow keel means less room for breast muscle attachment, resulting in less power to generate lift. Additionally, their heavy body weight relative to the size of their wings means that loons have to work hard to achieve liftoff. They must run across the surface of the water, flapping all the way, before they are able to take flight. On a calm day, loons may need up to a quarter mile of ‘runway’ before they are able to take off. When they have a head wind to help them, they are often able to take off in a shorter distance.

The structure and positioning of the loon’s legs also help it to be more efficient in the water. Like many other diving birds, the upper portions of a loon’s leg (the femur and most of the tibiotarsus) are internal, located within the skin of the abdomen and tucked against the ribs. Only a small portion of a loon’s leg (the tarsometatarsus and the foot) is external, and this external portion is positioned very far back on the body. This creates a streamlined body shape that minimizes drag and allows loons to maximize the propulsive force that they get with each kick of their feet. However, this rear foot placement makes loons clumsy and slow on land. When on land, loons are therefore vulnerable to predators, and moving on land requires a lot of energy. As a result, they build their nests close to the water’s edge, which can make nests vulnerable to water level fluctuations that may flood or strand them.

The Loon Preservation Committee is dedicated to restoring and maintaining a healthy population of loons throughout New Hampshire; monitoring the health and productivity of loon populations as sentinels of environmental quality; and promoting a greater understanding of loons and the natural world. You may visit the Loon Preservation Center in Moultonborough. To become a member and receive their newsletters go to at or call 603 476-5666.