About a dozen loons live on Kezar Lake in western Maine. Nearby residents have installed nesting “islands” to help protect breeding loons from predatory bald eagles. Photo courtesy of Heinrich Wurm

Heinrich and Linda Wurm have summered on 2,600-acre Kezar Lake for 40 years and lived there year-round the past seven. And clearly, one of the favorite aspects of their lake home in Lovell are the resident loons.

The Kezar Lake community values its dozen or so loons so much, it has installed nesting platforms to help protect breeding loons from predatory bald eagles. The members of the lake association even got a grant three years ago to hire a biologist to study the resident loon population.

So when a state biologist’s blog post – how an adult loon killed a bald eagle on nearby Highland Lake by piercing it through the heart with its bill – went viral in May, it drew cheers from the folks on Kezar Lake.

“We were a little happy that the eagle got stabbed by the loon in the story,” Wurm said. “It seems eagle predation on loon chicks is on the upswing. But we realize it’s nature and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

After a necropsy was done on the eagle found in Highland Lake last summer, the cause of death was determined to be a puncture through the heart by a loon’s bill. Photo courtesy of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

Indeed, many who spend time on the lakes and ponds that are home to some 5,000 common loons in Maine are of a similar mind. When it comes to the common clash between bald eagles and loons – it’s common to hear Mainers rooting for the loon.

“Eagles are magnificent, there’s no question. If you see one come down and grab a fish it’s a sight to see,” said Janet Coulter, who summers on Ingalls Pond in Bridgton. “But they are basically considered the enemy. We don’t want them dead. But we’re all loon people here.”

Both birds are iconic Maine species. But others agree that many people tend to side with loons.

“Based on my experience taking calls for the Somes-Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary on Mount Desert Island, I find people in Maine are very protective and territorial about their loons, which is a good thing. What I heard on the other side of the phone when people were calling me about eagles and loons was that the eagle was a bad bird. People look at the eagle as a bully,” said David Lamon, manager of the Fields Pond Nature Center in Holden.

State Bird Biologist Danielle D’Auria didn’t expect her May 15 blog post about a dead eagle to be picked up by others across the country – from National Geographic and the Smithsonian Institute to the New York Post. After performing a necropsy, D’Auria said she is 99 percent certain the eagle found in Highland Lake died at the hand – or bill – of a loon.

However, D’Auria said the way the loon killed the eagle is not a rare form of combat for loons.

“I don’t think it’s common in that it always ends in death. But I do think it’s common that loons attack eagles in that manner and can potentially inflict injury,” D’Auria said. “They do it to other loons all the time. That is something very well documented through necropsy reports. They spar a lot.”

Loons are naturally territorial and protective of their chicks  often trying to scare off other loons. But D’Auria said an eagle clashing with a loon doesn’t necessarily have the upper hand.

Loons are remarkable swimmers that can rise up toward the lake surface at amazing speeds to propel their long bodies out of the water. Photo courtesy of Heinrich Wurm

While bald eagles stand 31 to 37 inches tall, have a wingspan of 6-to-8 feet and can weigh 8 to 14 pounds; a loon is equally imposing – standing 31 to 32 inches when it rises out of the water and weighing as much as 18 pounds with its more solid-boned structure that makes it an excellent diver. Loons also are remarkable swimmers that can rise up toward the lake surface at amazing speeds to propel their long bodies out of the water.

“They’re more built like a submarine rather than a glider,” Lamon said.

And yet, when loons vie with eagles to protect their territory, eggs or chicks, this common clash in nature often upsets many Mainers.

“I personally would not be sad to see the eagles leave our pond,” said Coulter, who keeps the loon history book for her summer community. “I’m glad the species has recovered. That’s the right thing. But they definitely are not compatible with loon babies.”

Coulter and her partner, Betty Bowker, summer on Ingalls Pond where there is just one resident loon pair, because the pond is relatively small. Coulter said roughly 25 other households on the lake are equally protective of the loon couple.

When a float plane pilot once made a habit of landing and taking off on the pond, nearby residents would jump in their kayaks and paddle to the center of the small pond to thwart the landing – and the threat of disturbance to “their loons.”

And several years ago when Coulter and Bowker were drawn out to their deck by a loon alarm call they knew signaled an attacking bald eagle, they ran out and yelled at the eagle – only to watch in horror as it displaced the adult loon and gobbled up its eggs.

“We were screaming and jumping on our deck. We screamed things that are unprintable,” Coulter said. “We were furious.”

As a naturalist and outdoor educator, Lamon tries to look at the two species as equal parts of Maine’s wild ecosystems. But even he, it’s clear, is in awe of the loon’s chutzpah in the face of a bald eagle.

Once, from his kayak, Lamon watched as a bald eagle stood at the edge of a shallow pond “happily taking a bath” when a nearby nesting loon approached, came right up to the large raptor, and started wailing at the eagle.

“The eagle was minding its own business, preening itself. But the loon came up beak to beak to say, ‘Hey, this is my territory. I don’t want you here,’” Lamon said.  “And as Danielle’s story made the point really poignantly, loons can take care of themselves. They are a formidable predator.”


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