ONEIDA COUNTY (WKOW) — On a remote lake in northern Wisconsin, an unlikely family is defying nature in favor of nurture.
A loon pair has adopted a mallard duckling as its chick, despite the two being natural rivals.
The family was discovered by Madison native Evelyn Doolittle, who is working as a Field Research Intern for The Loon Project this summer.
The project is run by Professor Walter Piper, a professor of Biology at Chapman University in California.
Doolittle will be a junior at Northland College in Ashland and says she came across the duckling with the loon pair in June. At the time, she thought it was a loon chick, remarking to her colleagues, “Wow, loon chicks and ducklings sure look alike!” according to a blog post by Piper.
Another researcher, Elaina Lomery, went back to the private lake 10 days later and realized the loons were actually taking care of a mallard duckling. She took some photographs of the duckling with its adoptive parents.
Piper says he’s never seen anything like this in his more than 25 years of researching loons. He notes in his blog loons have been known to attack and kill ducklings. Besides being natural enemies, loons and mallards behave differently and eat different things. But Piper says as they watch the duckling and its parents, they notice the youngster diving for food as a loon would. Photographer Linda Grenzer captured this image where the duckling dove underwater. The duckling is also eating fish and snails, which it normally would not.
Piper writes in his blog it seems the loon parents must have lost its own chick to a predator and shortly after, came across the duckling, who must have been separated from its family. Piper writes, the loons “were predisposed to find and care for anything that even remotely resembled a newly-hatched loon.”
To learn more about The Loon Project or read the blog, click here.