Murder loons show mercy on baby duck

Ducks and loons mingle peacefully on a Minnesota lake. (PHOTO: Hannah Barnett, Flickr CC)

Ducks and loons mingle peacefully on a Minnesota lake. (PHOTO: Hannah Barnett, Flickr CC)

Loyal readers of this site might recall a post last year detailing the fixation on murderous black birds shared by contributors to the Mesabi Daily News “Orchids and Onions” section.

Nothing is sacred to the hardcore Onionites of the eastern Mesabi: certainly not even Minnesota’s State Bird: the common loon.

“Open your eyes!” wrote one Onion writer. “It’s now almost impossible for any duck to nest and have living young after a few weeks on any small lake inhabited by a loon.”

Crows and wolves were similarly reviled.

That’s why a friend found some humor in this item from the National Audobon Society.

Last summer, a photographer documented a nested pair of loons that were raising a goldeneye duckling alongside their natural born offspring. The photographer Doug Giles theorized that the duckling must have become separated from its parents. Goldeneyes have up to 15 offspring at a time. Loons, despite their territorial nature, will raise other chicks if they find them. This is especially true when the chicks vaguely resemble loons as very young goldeneyes do.

Not only did the young duck survive, but it enjoyed an upgrade in diet. Instead of the bugs and crayfish ducks usually eat, it enjoyed the freshwater fish that loons prefer.

But it won’t be so easy going forward.

It’s unknown if the duckling stuck with its new parents through the summer, but if it did and stays all the way until it gets to breeding age (about two years), it might be in for a serious culture shock, Piper says. The bird could experience what’s called sexual imprinting, forgetting its real identity and its species-specific mating instincts—not great for the goldeneye’s future dating prospects. If the bird did try to mate with other loons, it would likely face a terrible beat down. So for its own sake, here’s hoping the alternative happened: It survived long enough with its adoptive family and eventually made it back to its own kind, where choosing a mate isn’t nearly as dicey.

Proving another law of nature: dating gets trickier every year.

Perhaps another Onion is due to our loon friends? Despite their mercy and caring, they may have sexually confused a duckling. Stop the presses!

(h/t Sally Jo Sorensen)


  1. Always enjoy your blog!

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