Does nature have good guys and bad guys?
On May 30, Bonnie and Dave Lundberg were going about their usual chores at their house on the lake. That morning, two loons called incessantly back and forth. So much calling was unusual for that time of day and one of the loons sounded close. One of the calls seemed to be coming from the woods behind the house.
When Bonnie went looking, she found an adult loon stranded on the ground in the woods, at least 250 feet from the water. The helpless loon was panting with distress. And she had a little loon-ling nestled on her back!
Bonnie did not know what to make of this. Loons often carry their young chicks on their backs while in the water. Could they fly with their babies on their backs as well? Could the loon have crash-landed? It seemed unlikely. What had happened?
Loons are never far from water by choice. Their legs are set far back on their bodies. This is great for swimming underwater and pursuing fish, but makes them hopelessly awkward and almost helpless on land.
Loons also cannot take off from land. To fly, these heavy-bodied birds must do water starts, running across the surface of the water while flapping furiously until at last they become airborne. If a flying loon mistakes a wet roadway or parking lot for a river or lake and lands there, it's stranded and will die without help.
So how did a loon and her tiny baby end up stranded in the woods fairly far from a lake? Bald eagles also live near lakes. In addition to scavenging on carcasses, they also hunt. They catch fish and other animals, including loons.
At Wildwoods, we've had several baby loons who have been injured after eagles accidentally dropped them. We've also had a full-sized adolescent loon rescued by people who saw a bald eagle swimming to shore dragging the loon he'd captured.
One of the eagles living on the lake probably grabbed the adult loon with a baby riding piggyback and lifted them both into the air. Carrying an adult loon while airborne is no small task, even for an eagle. The eagle probably lost control of its catch and dropped the adult and baby into the nearby woods.
Distressed, the stranded adult called back and forth to her mate, who sometimes called to her from the lake and sometimes flew overhead while calling.
After calling Wildwoods for ideas, Bonnie, Dave and their cousin gently scooped the loon and her baby into a plastic container and carried them to the lake. The adult loon lurched eagerly into the water, followed by her baby. The other adult loon quickly flew in and joined them on the water. Thanks to Bonnie and Dave, these two loons, doomed without help, resumed their life together.
Most of us love bald eagles, and most of us also love loons. For whom should we root? Whom should we boo? This ambiguity presents an opportunity to see nature more clearly.
In nature there are no "good guys" or "bad guys." The wolf, owl or eagle are not the bad guys and the deer, mouse or loon are not the good guys. They each need the others to exist and thrive. They (and we) are all tiny pieces in the immensely complex, intricately interwoven web of nature's whole. Rather than rooting for the eagle or rooting for the loon, we must learn to root for the health of the whole for harmony and balance. We must respect nature's incredible intricacy and interconnectedness, a vast web of beings and relationships that also includes us.
More photos of the loon rescue may be found here.
Peggy Farr is a volunteer and board member of Wildwoods and works in human health care.
Wildwoods is a 501(c)(3) wildlife rehabilitation organization in Duluth. For information on how you can help wildlife, including volunteer opportunities, visit wildwoodsrehab.org, call (218) 491-3604 or write to P.O. Box 3161, Duluth, MN 55803.