Common Loon, Gavia immer, Breeding Success in Relation to Lake pH and Lake Size Over 25 Years


  • Robert Alvo 219-140 Mann Avenue, Conservation Co-op, Ottawa, Ontario K1N 1E5



Common Loon, Gavia immer, breeding success, forage, dive time, fledge, sulphur, pH, Sudbury, Ontario


I monitored Common Loon (Gavia immer) breeding success in relation to lake pH (range 4.0–8.5) between 1982 and 2007 on 38 single-pair lakes (5–88 ha) in the Sudbury, Ontario, area. No chicks fledged on lakes with pH < 4.4. Chicks fledged on lakes with slightly higher pH only if the lakes were relatively large. Acidic lakes became less acidic as sulphur dioxide emissions from the Sudbury smelters and sulphur deposition from other long-range sources decreased. Two lakes initially too acidic to support successful loon reproduction eventually had successful reproduction. One loon pair used two large acidic lakes (combined area 140 ha) connected by shallow rapids, and one of the adults made extremely long dives (average = 99 s) while foraging for the chicks. One chick died on that lake after apparently ingesting a very large food item; the lack of smaller items was attributed to the lake’s acidity. My results suggest that a shortage of food for chicks is the main reason why low pH reduces breeding success. I suggest that, for lakes without high levels of dissolved organic carbon (DOC), the critical pH for loon breeding success is approximately 4.3, and the suboptimal pH is approximately 4.4–6.0.