Last week on Sagadawong Bay, Linda Thurber captured some amazing film footage of two loons engaging in a behaviour that not even any longtime residents in the area had witnessed before. These videos show one bird madly pursuing the other with the wings of both whirring in what looks like a furious butterfly stroke on the top of the water, interspersed with bouts of underwater wrestling

Loons Flapping
Loons Wrestling

Not sure if these two were lovers or fighters, our neighbourhood team of amateur biologists turned to Google, and then confirmed our findings with the GBB and MNR wildlife biologists visiting for Sunday’s PaBIA Naturalist talk. 

It seems it was not romance that was in the air that rainy day, but aggression. Given that a loon family with a pair of chicks will eat something like a half a ton of (mostly) fish during a season, they need a sizeable territory and will defend that area vigorously. Most territorial disputes are settled with vocalizations and displays, but on occasion things get more serious, and can even result in the mortality of one of the combatants. In this case, it’s likely that Linda filmed the loser of a confrontation beating a hasty retreat and surviving several attempted drownings in the process. The less commonly observed and strangely inefficient looking getaway stroke seen is known as “wing rowing” and is only one of a more familiar variety of dances, vocalizations and body language seen in the loon’s social behaviour. 

The next time a loon glares at you with a furrowed brow or rears up and flaps their wings in a “penguin dance, you’d best row away yourself, for the sake of you and the loon.

Thank you to Linda for her steady hand in filming and to Mimi Crawford for sharing these wonderful videos with me.