Loon in lake

Loons are like campers — they love their park!

`In today’s post, Kettle Lakes Provincial Park‘s senior park naturalist Sarah Wiebe shows us that loons and campers aren’t so different!

Just like many families, Common Loons choose Kettle Lakes as the place to stay with their family in the summer.

You could say that loon families love parks as much as we do!

Like many visitors, I grew up visiting parks, spending every summer of my childhood exploring shorelines and lakes.

I would spend hours making sandcastles at Arrowhead Provincial Park, splashing in the water at Balsam Lake Provincial Park, going fishing in The Massasauga Provincial Park, and paddling through Algonquin Provincial Park.

I can easily say that I love parks.

As I was watching a family of loons return to the lake near our staff house at Kettle Lakes this spring, it got me thinking about how loons like to spend their summers in Ontario Parks, too!

By observing the loons, I’ve noticed that loons love parks as much we do.

Like us, loon families have favourite parks and traditions

Just like campers returning to their favourite parks, loons will come back to the same lake year after year.

This is called site fidelity.

loon in flight

Loons are just as excited as us about getting to the park and setting up their “site” for the season.

When I arrived at the park this year, the ice was still on the lake and (of course) there was not a loon in sight!

But as soon as the ice melted, the loons were there!

They planned their stay five months in advance just like we do, but from their southern winter homes along the Atlantic coast.

Loons swimming on lake

Once they get to the park, they are super chatty.

The males use their yodel call to establish their territory. It’s kind of like when you go into the gatehouse to check in and tell the gate staff, “Campsite 120 is our campsite every year! It’s the best site in the park!”

Loons have other calls like the hoot, which is used to locate family members.

loons in water

The wail is like when your family is laughing around the campfire; it’s a social call between loons!

They also have a warning call called a tremolo, which is like when your mom says, “Don’t touch the hot fire pit!” or “Don’t forget your life jacket!”

We all have special adaptations

On camping trips, my dad always wants to get up at the crack of dawn and go fishing.

So we pack our fishing rods, tackle boxes, net, and pliers into a fishing boat (usually not so early in the morning since we aren’t really morning people) in hopes of catching the biggest fish.

canoe on lake

Loons come prepared too! They also like fishing and are specially designed for it.

Loons have big flipper-like feet that help them swim fast.

They are built for diving, with solid bones that help them stay underwater (unlike other birds which have hollow bones for easier flying) and can empty their lungs of air.

Loons can slow down their heart rate to conserve oxygen and flatten their feathers to reduce drag, allowing them to dive up to 80 metres deep!

A loon floating in a lake.

They have big pointy beaks with barbs inside that helps hold onto slippery fish.

In a weekend of fishing, sometimes my mom, dad, sister, and I would be lucky enough to catch a few good fish.

But a loon family with two adults and two chicks can catch up to a half-ton of fish through the summer! That’s the weight of two full-size refrigerators or one adult male Moose!

It pays to come with the right equipment!

Loon feeding loonlet

Loons eat small fish like minnow and perch. They also eat leeches, aquatic insects, and frogs.

Some think that anglers are competing with loons for fish but really, loons are part of the food chain and are helping to create balance. They don’t really care much about that trophy fish you want to catch on Hughes Lake.

Kettle Lakes attracts campers and loons alike!

Kettle Lakes lies within the Great Clay Belt, a stretch of fertile land in northeastern Ontario and northwest Quebec, created by a vast glacial lake about 8,000 years ago.

This region has many long, wide rivers, but only a few large lakes like Nighthawk Lake, Lake Timiskaming, and Lake Abitibi.

Kettle Lakes is different.

kettle lake with ferns in foreground

Kettle Lakes and some other protected areas in the region, like Esker Lakes Provincial Park, are known for their many small, deep, and sheltered lakes called kettles.

These lakes are excellent places for paddling, fishing, and swimming — and the loons agree! Loons prefer to nest on lakes that are between five and 50 hectares in size.

Loons spend most of their time in the water and only leave the water a short distance to build their nest using sticks, reeds, and grasses. Once their nest is built, they lay two eggs.

Nesting Loon

Tended and fed by both parents, young loons leave the nest within 1-2 days and can dive underwater at 2-3 days!

They will often ride on the back of parents when small. Loons don’t fly until they are at least 10 weeks old — they focus on living on the water first!

Loon parents nest on smaller lakes, as their eggs will not survive if the nest is flooded by high water or waves.

loon with loonet on back

Baby loons need calm water to grow up on as they can easily be swamped by big waves while learning to swim. The quiet lakes at the park are the perfect learning area for young loons!

Protecting the park for future generations (of humans and loons alike!)

At Kettle Lakes we really love our lakes and our loons.

That’s why we participate in projects like the Canadian Lake Loon Survey each year, which helps us discover more about these summer residents and what we can do to help them.

By being community scientists, visitors can help to protect the lakes we all love and the loons that depend on those lakes for survival.

We can also help protect our loon neighbours by:

  • using lead-free fishing tackle
  • keeping soap and other foreign chemicals out of the water
  • giving nests and loon families space when on the water
  • reporting sightings to park staff
  • using cool nature apps like eBird and iNaturalist!

Parks like Kettle Lakes hold special memories for our families, like catching that first fish or listening to the loon calls in the evenings.

Let’s do what we can to help protect parks for all families, including our feathered friends.