Loon Foot Waggle at the Loon Gathering

While kayaking one recent early morning in the foggy mist, I observed two curious loon behaviors, the gathering of a number of loons and the loon foot waggle . The gathering of loons I am referring to occurs when a number (nine in this case) of loons gather together on a lake, and one is sure that not all of those loons typically inhabit the lake. A loon foot waggle occurs when a loon sticks one of their feet up out of the water and wiggles it. I have observed both of these behaviors on a number of occasions and wondered, “Why do they do that?” I did a bit of research on both behaviors, and found that while there are various thoughts on the “why” of these behaviors, there is still a bit of mystery as well.

Foot Waggle in a gathering of loons

Loon Gathering with a Foot Waggle

In fact one of the resources I found was called, The Mystery of the Loon Breakfast Club, an article by Brian M. Collins in Cabin Life magazine. The scenario that he described is similar to what I observed. The loons gathered in a group; splashing, diving, occasionally two would appear to touch their beaks together, and now and then the curious foot waggle was displayed. Loons joined the group by doing a fly-over, then splashing down in the water a short ways from the group, and swimming over to join the rest.

nine loons together on lake

Nine Loons (count ‘um!)

When the group moved they moved en masse, either bunched together or sometimes in a row. Possible reasons why loons gather for this period of social interaction include: they are preparing for fall migration, it is a time for play and learning, or it could be a prelude to next year’s mating season. I noted two loons turn toward each other and appear to touch beaks, could that be part of a mating ritual?

 

Loon with foot sticking out of water

Loon Foot Waggle

What about that foot waggle? Possible reasons put forth for this behavior include: it’s a means of stretching to help the loon feel more comfortable, it’s associated with preening and resting behavior, it’s a way for the loon to regulate body temperature, and/or it may aid in circulation. That it is a feel-good stretching behavior makes a lot of sense to me. (A helpful resource for information on loon behavior is the LoonWatch website.)

 

eight loons swimming in a row

 

~ by Pinetree Photo Nature Discovery on August 6, 2014.

9 Responses to “Loon Foot Waggle at the Loon Gathering”

  1. Oh, and the songs. Do baby loons call out too?

  2. Such interesting birds, Carol. Their shape and coloration make them stand out even in the misty fog. Lovely photography capturing the foot waggle. I for one think it’s just a stretch and maybe to show off.

  3. This is really neat, ma. Beats anything we saw in the Boundary Waters!

  4. You must feel honored to have been invited to such an exclusive gathering. Great images. I especially like the last.

    A few solitary loons winter in Pine Island sound. I see them occasionally and rarely hear their call.

    • I have seen loons in Pine Island Sound on a few occasions too. Initially, I didn’t recognize them, because they were in winter colors. And yes, their calls are muted and infrequent compared to what I hear in Minnesota. Nice to know, however, that we apparently are not the only northerners to enjoy Pine Island in the winter.

  5. I actually saw a foot waggle for the first time this summer though I think it was not a loon but a duck. I wouldn’t have thought again about it until I read your blog. Nine loons . . . how cool is that!

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