World’s oldest loon pair returns to Michigan for 26th summer

May 12, 2022
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The world’s two oldest-known common loons once again have returned to Michigan — and if they choose each other as mates, it will mark a record 26 consecutive summers together for the pair.

The male and female loons, named ABJ (“adult banded juvenile”) and Fe (pronounced “fay”), were seen this week at Seney National Wildlife Refuge, the pair’s long-time breeding grounds in the Upper Peninsula. The sighting was announced in a post on the wildlife refuge’s Facebook page.

“While Fe was observed yesterday on F Pool, her long-term nesting territory with ABJ, he was feeding on an adjacent impoundment,” wrote Damon McCormick of Common Coast Research & Conservation, a nonprofit dedicated to studying and protecting Great Lakes migratory birds. “It is likely, however, that the two will shortly recouple and undertake their record 26th consecutive year as a breeding pair.”

The two birds are the world’s oldest documented common loons. ABJ was banded as a chick at the refuge in 1987, so researches know his precise age: He will turn 35 this June. Fe was first banded at the refuge in 1990 as a mother, and because the youngest age of verified common loon reproduction is four, researchers can say she will be turning at least 36 this year.

The pair’s species record-setting 32 hatched offspring might somewhat explain their remarkable fidelity to each other: Common loons don’t mate for life, but researchers have found that if two loons successfully hatch chicks together, they’re more likely to pair up again the following year.

McCormick noted that the success of the longtime pair is contrasted by a 45% decline in the refuge’s overall common loon population in the past 10 years, and poor chick productivity in recent years. While outbreaks of avian botulism on Lake Michigan, where loons pass through on their migration journeys, is likely partly to blame, a project by Common Coast Research & Conservation is currently examining whether the decline may also be due to factors at the wildlife refuge, he wrote.

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