Three hypotheses are tested to explain the function of common loon social gatherings: Cooperative Foraging, Familiarity, and Reconnaissance. From 1993 to 1999, I studied social gatherings through behavioral observations in Michigan, Wisconsin and Maine. There was no or little evidence for the Cooperative Foraging Hypothesis. Partial or indirect evidence for the Familiarity Hypothesis included the following: (1) Social gatherings lasted both longer and occurred more frequently later in the breeding season (2) Approximately 25% of all the social gatherings observed occurred on neutral territories, and (3) Social gatherings consisted of the same individuals on consecutive days. Predictions from the Reconnaissance Hypothesis were also supported in that a large proportion of individuals participating in social gatherings were non-breeders and that the number of social gatherings observed were not equally distributed across loon territories, but instead increased on territories that had recently undergone a divorce. No one hypothesis was adequate to explain social gatherings and more observations on uniquely marked individuals are needed to further substantiate these initial findings.
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Paruk, J.D. Testing hypotheses of social gatherings of common loons (Gavia immer). Hydrobiologia 567, 237–245 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-006-0044-0