Saturday Night Fever – Loony Dancing

By: Cathy Vaughan

Williams Lake hosts a pair of loons every year. Binoculars at the ready in the early spring, we expectantly await the arrival of the royal couple to the lake. Courting, nesting, defending, dancing – we are endlessly entertained by their loony behaviour.

Loons can ‘dance like no one is watching.’ Penguin pirouetting, wing rowing, circle dancing and foot waggle are some of their more inventive gyrations. Thrashing roll-overs, backward flips with flailing wings are all carefully choreographed communication. Loons use their body language to defend their territory, protect their nests, size up potential intruders or express their inner John Travolta.

‘Penguin pirouetting’ is a male move to aggressively defend its territory from an unwanted gate-crasher. Loons will propel themselves along the top of the water, splashing and squawking at the threat. The defeated interloper then wings-it out of the altercation by using a ‘wing-rowing’ move, to frantically propel themselves to safety.

‘Circle dancing’ for loons looks a bit like our line dancing. Several rival loons will slowly swim in choreographed circles around each other, evaluating their opponents’ moves, assessing their vitality and avoiding physical contacts until one of them blinks and the circling begins again. The ‘foot waggle’ or ‘shake-a-leg’ seems to be performed for the sheer pleasure of a good yoga stretch. The loon will extend one foot above the water, like a synchronized swimmer and shakes its leg vigorously. Could be arthritis from long hours in incubation- position on the nest.