Perhaps it’s time the phrase “Don’t mess with mama bear” receives a very loony, Canadian update.
YouTube is flooded with clips of loons protecting their chicks from eagles and other predatory birds. This video in particular, posted by Patty Karey of BC, shows a loon trying to scare off a different species of potentially dangerous animal: humans.
The two boaters in the video assume the loon was faking an injury in order to distract them from her chick, but that might not be the case.
Loons are very protective and are generally on high alert all through nesting and hatching season, which lasts from late May until late July, the timeframe in which this video was uploaded.
During these months, the Loon Preservation Committee recommends everyone to stay clear of loons if possible. Their brochure states: “If you approach too near a nesting loon or a loon with chicks it might give a ‘tremolo’ alarm call that sounds like crazy laughter. If the loon is very agitated it may rear up and thrash about in the water.”
It appears as if that is what the loon in the video was doing.
As for the chick that dove under just before the video began rolling, don’t worry about it drowning any time soon. Charlie Walcott, a professor of Neurobiology and Behaviour at Cornell University, explained in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen that loons “have a very efficient respiratory system,” and estimates that they can hold their breath under water for close to 15 minutes.
“In our system, you breathe it, the air goes into a dead-end sac, and then you breathe out. It’s like a car where the air intake doubles as the exhaust pipe. Most of the oxygen isn’t absorbed,” Walcott continued. “Birds have a bunch of air sacs and a one-way flow of air through the lungs. The blood flows in the opposite direction to the air. The loon extracts about 90 per cent of the oxygen in air.”
Remind me to advise my sons not to challenge a loon to a “hold your breath under water” contest!