Cottage Q&A: Loons attacking ducks

A solo loon on the lake, close-up By Harry Collins Photography/Shutterstock

Have you ever heard of loons attacking other birds? A mother duck and 10 ducklings had been hanging around our dock for a few days. One weekend, I could see them floating about 15 metres off shore when suddenly a loon shot up from underneath the family. It was flapping wildly and screaming. The mother duck attacked, smashing her chest into the loon and hitting it with her wings. Ducklings scattered everywhere. Eventually, the mother duck had to retreat. I don’t know if the loon ate the ducklings or simply killed them, but when we saw the duck and her brood later there were only eight. Was this an act of aggression and territorialism on the part of the loon, or was this simply the loon hunting for dinner?—Alison Baxter, Lake Temagami, Ont.

Hold up. It’s possible that you’ve wrongly accused this loon of murder. The violent incident and the missing ducklings could be a coincidence, says Scott Petrie, the chief executive officer of Delta Waterfowl in Bismarck, N.D. “Lots of things kill ducklings—snapping turtles, pike, gulls, boats—so the reduction in brood size was not necessarily the result of the loon attack.”

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Not directly, at least. And it’s very unlikely that the loon ate the ducklings; loons aren’t duckling predators. They are, however, highly territorial, says Kathy Jones of Birds Canada. “Research to date, including data and anecdotal reports from the Canadian Lakes Loon Survey, clearly shows that they will defend their territory.” From pretty much everybody—they’ll even attack and kill other loons. “From a human perspective, it doesn’t make any sense,” says Jones. “But that’s just the way nature plays.”

Jones suspects that the ducklings paddled away to safety during the attack, leaving Ma Duck to—ideally—find them later. Did she eventually? Maybe. Hopefully. 

Cottage Q&A: Why are these loons gathering in groups?

This article originally ran in the Aug./Sept. 2020 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

Got a question for Cottage Q&A? Send it to answers@cottagelife.com.

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