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Learning about loons

Dr. Jay Mager, assistant professor of biological sciences, is co-author of “Marking Loons, Making Progress,” a cover story in the current issue of American Scientist.

Along with Dr. Charles Walcott, professor emeritus of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell University and Dr. Dr. Walter Piper, professor of earth and environmental sciences at Chapman University, Mager reports on striking discoveries about the social behavior and communication of common loons revealed by a low-tech approach - individual marking of study animals.

Their paper says: “Common the common loon may be, but it’s behavior remained enigmatic until the emergence of bird-marking techniques that have now begun to yield long-term findings. Almost two decades reveal that loons do not mate for life, as so long supposed, that breeding pairs may be intruded upon by both male and female invaders, and that territorial fights between males can lead to fatalities 30 percent of the time. In fatal fights, the invader is always the victor. Sonogram studies reveal that the signature of these territorial birds, their yodel, is both characteristic of individuals yet also changes as their physical state and circumstances change.

Mager adds, “Part of my research contributions were supported by one of the recent faculty research grants that were awarded last summer and faculty development grants in previous summers, which is I think important for the University to recognize.”

Mager teaches general biology, zoology, ecology, and ornithology. His research interests are in ecology with particular emphasis in birds. He serves as an environmental and field biology advisor.

For a video of the authors discussing behavior, study and capture of loons in the wild, go to: