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Common Loons in the Classroom

Through this curriculum, it is our hope that many students in Maine will learn about loons, their natural history, and their habits – and will in turn become stewards not only of loon habitat, but also of clean water and healthy aquatic ecosystems.

This curriculum can easily stand alone, but it also has a supplemental box of resource materials available for loan to classrooms. This box includes a stuffed, mounted loon, as well as eggs, feathers, bones, photos, and complete classroom activity materials.

Download the Curriculum (pdf)

Teacher Overview

  • Grades: 3-6
  • Setting: Classroom (though activities are adaptable for other settings like after-school programs or home-schoolers)
  • Group Size: 20-30 students but adaptable for smaller groups
  • Time: 30-45 minute blocks of time, with some activities requiring multiple blocks
  • Subject Areas: Science, English, Language Arts
  • Curriculum Structure: Each chapter has background information, discussion questions, and classroom activities

Chapter Summaries

Chapter 1: What is a Common Loon?
Background information and discussion questions cover different types of loons and some of their many adaptations to their primarily aquatic lives. The classroom activity “Beaks and Feet” has students thinking about adaptations that birds have for their different ways of life. Students assemble different bird bodies (beaks, wings, tails, etc.) to match different food types/sources.

Chapter 2: Where do Loons go in Winter?
Background information and discussion questions cover the annual migration pattern for Common Loons, including some of the different ways people have studied loon migration. The classroom activity “Migration Challenges” includes the opportunity to create a loon migration route through Maine, and the Incredible Loon Journey Board Game that follows the perils loons face in getting to their wintering ground.

Chapter 3: Time to Start a Family – Territories and Nesting 
Background information and discussion questions review how males establish and defend territories, including the calls they make and what they mean to other loons, as well as the nest-building and incubating stages of a loon’s life.

Chapter 4: Time to Raise a Family – Chicks on the Water
Background information and discussion questions cover newly-hatched chicks, how they are fed, how they grow, and how they compete with their siblings for both food and attention. The classroom activity “Feeding Frenzy” has students pretending to be loons, feeding, and tallying their fish totals. Students failing to meet the two-fish minimum get weaker while those that eat more than two fish stay healthy. The class can chart the number of “healthy” vs. “weak” loons over time, and make predictions about the sustainability of their loons. Students need to be able to add fractions (1/4, 1/2, and 3/4).

Chapter 5: Threats to Common Loons
Background information and discussion questions cover six of the most critical threats to loons today, including habitat loss, mercury and fishing tackle, with questions designed to get students thinking about how their actions might help loon conservation. The classroom activity “Loon Lake Town Meeting” turns the classroom into a town meeting, with each student acting out a specific community member who may be fore or against a new development proposed for the pristine shores of Loon Lake. Students can review the proposed development and discuss the costs and benefits to the community.

Chapter 6: Common Loon Conservation and Research
Background information and discussion questions cover different ways that scientists have studied loons, including the internet “loon cam” and Maine Audubon’s annual Loon Count, and management techniques like artificial nesting platforms that offer loons new nesting opportunities. The classroom activity “Build A Raft” has students discussing the pros and cons of managing loons with artificial nest sites, and has them construct their own platform out of straws and play clay to test different designs. A second classroom activity “How Many Loons?” is designed for older students, and gives them several data sets with loon population numbers that they can compare and contrast over time.

Acknowledgements: This curriculum is made possible by a grant from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, and by generous support of the Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust. Karen Hoydick Rent and Cathy Stivers both helped develop the classroom activities and the Maine Learning Results matrix. Thanks to Dave Evers, Kate Taylor, Lee Attix, and Nina Schoch for their detailed comments on the text, and to Lisa Kane for her comments and support. Thanks to volunteer Shirley Wells, Becca Wilson, and Bob Bittenbender for all their help, especially in pulling together the final edits and the supplemental boxes. A special thanks to the many amateur photographers who gave us permission to use their photos throughout the curriculum.