SPEAKER 1: One of the great advances in the study of loons has been the ability to band them, so that one can mark individuals. In the normal course of events, one loon looks very much like another loon. By so doing, we have been able to discover all sorts of interesting things because we are now able to recognize individual loons.
SPEAKER 2: We can even mark them as chicks on their natal lakes. And then three or four or five years later, they will pop up in our study area, sometimes a little bit away from their natal lake, but usually relatively close to it, so that we have a system for automatically marking all these young non-breeders that are looking for territories.
SPEAKER 1: The question is, how do you go about banding loons? And it's not so easy. Because first, of course, you have to catch the loon.
SPEAKER 3: Generally we want to catch everybody. We want to catch adults and chicks.
SPEAKER 4: [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 3: Yeah, we band everybody, catch and band everybody. We replace the bands on them, or we reweigh the birds, especially males.
SAVANNAH: What if they completely have-- their bands are fine, and--
SPEAKER 3: Well, we'll at least weigh them, bring them in and weigh them, because one of the interesting things, bits of information we're getting, is mass information, which tells us about the size of the birds and their condition. Yep.
[INAUDIBLE] we need [INAUDIBLE]. Yeah, we need four boxes [INAUDIBLE]. [INAUDIBLE]. [INAUDIBLE].
The battery is dying, isn't it? The motor is deadly. [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 5: These two are the first two.
SPEAKER 6: OK, her head's over there.
SPEAKER 7: This one?
SPEAKER 6: Yeah, her head's here. But we need to get the towel [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 7: I'm ready.
SPEAKER 6: OK. Whoa. OK. So the key is to get their head on the towel. You see how I've got the--
SPEAKER 7: And their wings.
SPEAKER 5: You're holding above the beak right now?
SPEAKER 6: Yeah. I'm just trying to-- and we do this in sort of an ungainly and undignified fashion, but--
SPEAKER 7: So we're going to flip him back towards me. Then you need to get behind me and make sure that the towel stays on the head.
SPEAKER 6: [INAUDIBLE] have a family.
SAVANNAH: So just hold it.
SPEAKER 7: Yep. [INAUDIBLE] towards you [INAUDIBLE] behind me.
SPEAKER 6: OK, this is the recap sheet. And then--
SPEAKER 7: [INAUDIBLE] wrap it like [INAUDIBLE] should be good.
SAVANNAH: Do I keep holding it, or--
SPEAKER 7: No, no. You're good.
SPEAKER 6: 1008. Can you repeat that?
SPEAKER 5: 1008.
SPEAKER 6: Silver over mitt.
SPEAKER 5: Silver over mitt.
SPEAKER 6: White over taupe stripe.
SPEAKER 5: White over taupe stripe.
SPEAKER 6: Yeah, it's a little stained, but we put them on last year, dangit. I'm not going to go through another set of bands right now. So we'll just leave them on. So all we do with her is--
SPEAKER 6: Is weigh her.
OK, so quickly wrap it around. And then there's the hole. [INAUDIBLE] get that, pull that-- help pull the bag around the bird. Sorry, sorry. OK, good. All right, got it. Got it. Easy as pie. And then come here, Savannah. So we see 3680.
SPEAKER 5: 3680.
SPEAKER 6: OK, and that's all. And we'll release this one. Since we got another adult with the chicks, that we can release with the chicks, we can release her right here. This is well within her territory. And so we'll just let her go at the water's edge. There she goes.
SAVANNAH: It's like going back and--
SPEAKER 6: How about 1925?
SPEAKER 5: 1925.
SPEAKER 6: All right.
SPEAKER 5: [INAUDIBLE].
SAVANNAH: What do I do with this one?
SPEAKER 7: Just set him down gently. You can get him out of there and put him back in his box.
SPEAKER 6: Yeah, so just [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 7: Just grab his wings and his legs, and get [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 6: 1008.
SPEAKER 5: 1008.
SPEAKER 6: 979.
SPEAKER 5: 979.
SPEAKER 6: 07.
SPEAKER 5: 07.
SPEAKER 7: [INAUDIBLE] you're going to hold that joint right there. No, not the toes. The joint.
SPEAKER 6: Yeah, so that's the part that we put the band on.
SPEAKER 5: So for age, I put zero?
SPEAKER 6: Put nothing.
SPEAKER 5: Nothing, OK.
SPEAKER 7: [INAUDIBLE] exactly at that [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 6: Yeah, you can't do that. OK. Now here, let go for a second actually, because I want to test, make sure it doesn't go over the foot. OK. Hold again.
SPEAKER 5: [INAUDIBLE] combo is--
SPEAKER 7: On the left leg.
SPEAKER 5: Combo red stripe over silver.
SPEAKER 6: Yeah, when you see me finishing that, then say, OK, yeah, where's that? Let me know where the red stripe--
SPEAKER 5: Red stripe over silver.
SPEAKER 6: OK, silver on the bottom. OK.
SAVANNAH: Can I let her go?
SPEAKER 6: Well, you tuck it back in, yeah, and then give me the other leg. [INAUDIBLE]. See that snap back. Got it? OK.
SPEAKER 7: Savannah coming with us again?
SPEAKER 6: What's that?
SPEAKER 7: Savannah coming with us again?
SPEAKER 6: We can switch. Should we switch out? Well, let's have Savannah this time, just for-- yeah, because Dan's got stuff he's doing. OK. Continuity.
SPEAKER 5: I'll get a new combo for that chick then.
SPEAKER 6: And let's remember-- make note that we need to get some sevens, some yellow sevens in there [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 7: All right.
SPEAKER 6: I think we'll try to bring her back. [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 7: Say it again?
SPEAKER 6: Nothing.
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Common loons are large, fish-eating birds that winter on the ocean but breed on freshwater lakes. Loons have been studied for years, but it is only in the last fifteen years that we have a large enough population of banded individuals to begin to understand the details of their behavior. Breeding territories can be founded on vacant lakes by replacing a missing pair member or by actively evicting a member of the pair. When an intruding female takes over a territory, the displaced female moves to an adjacent lake. In contrast, when the intruder is male, about 30 percent of the territorial battles are fatal. If a loon is killed, it is always the resident male, never the intruder. We don't know why there is this asymmetry in the behavior of the two sexes. But since it is the male loon that seems to select the nest site with improving reproductive success every year, this may be the reason.
Many of us know loons by their haunting vocalizations. There are three long distance calls: the wail, the tremolo, and the yodel. Each plays a role in the establishment and maintenance of the breeding territory.
Loons are at the top of the food chain and tend to accumulate toxins, like methyl mercury, in their tissues. One reason for studying loons is to see whether an increase in mercury has any effect on their reproduction or behavior. These CyberTower videos describe how this research is conducted.
This video is part 2 of 6 in the Understanding Loons series.