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Loon trio: An embarrassment of riches

The Langes have a front row seat to one of nature's rarities - loon triplets. (Sarah Smith/Enterprise)1 / 3
Two of the three loon triplets stayed close together, ignoring the third, which was across the lake. (Sarah Smith/Enterprise)2 / 3
The third triplet swims with Mom across the lake from his siblings. Loon experts say sibling rivalry develops at an early age among loon chicks. (Sarah Smith /Enterprise)3 / 3

Jim and Ruth Lange have a lakeside seat to one of nature's rarities - loon triplets.

The trio was born June 4 on Mow Lake in Hubbard County. The retired Park Rapids couple spends weekends and some weekdays out in their pontoon on the lake, watching the growing family of five

"They were the size of golf balls when they first hatched," Jim said.

Thursday it was nigh on to impossible to assemble the family for a group portrait.

Two babies had escaped to the far reaches of the 99-acre lake to play, practice fishing and escape parental oversight.

Mom and the third baby were at the other end of the lake, calling for the kids to come home.

She finally dispatched Dad as the enforcer. He swam down near the kids, then stopped mid-lake to enjoy his time away.

Jim and Ruth watched the parents feed the babies live crappies the day before. "She was deciding which beak to out them into," Jim said. "They were about five or six inches long."

"I get a report of loon triplets almost every year," said Pam Perry, DNR nongame wildlife specialist and coordinator of the state Loon Watchers program.

"It's rare but it does happen. Last year, one of my Loon Watchers sent me photos and all three survived through the summer," she said.

"I have also heard, from another Loon Watcher, of the situation where there were two pair of nesting loons on his lake," Perry said. "Each pair hatched two chicks and these family groups were observed at opposite ends of the lake. Later, he observed one family group with three chicks and the other with only one. Was this adoption or kidnapping? I don't know, but certainly an interesting observation," she said.

Some loon observers say loons will often kill a third chick, but Perry doubts this is true.

" I have not heard that the loons will usually kill the third chick," she said. "But, it is well known that loon chicks are competitive and aggressive towards each other."

That may explain the schism early on in the life of the Mow Lake trio. Like human siblings, sometimes they just can't all get along.