Creature Feature

Creature Feature – Common Loon

Posted by  //  August 28, 2018  //  Articles, Creature Feature

The common loon is a beloved symbol of northern wilderness lakes.  It is a large, long-bodied bird that dives underwater to catch fish and other aquatic prey.  In spring and summer, the adult loon is quite striking in its boldly contrasting black and white-checkered plumage with bright red eyes.  In the winter, it is a drab gray above and white underneath. Breeding typically takes place on remote lakes in the northern U.S. and Canada.  Winters are spent along ocean coastlines and sometimes on open lakes and rivers. Loon pairs are monogamous and bonds may last several years. Tiny loon chicks are at risk from predators both above and below the water, and will ride on their parents’ backs for protection, or to warm up and rest.

The loon is built for life on the water.  Its feet are positioned far back on the body, which helps it to dive, but makes it extremely awkward on land.  Therefore, its nest is placed very close to the lake edge. Unlike most birds, the loon has solid bones, so it is heavy and requires lakes large enough to accommodate a long running and flapping take-off.

A loon has an array of vocalizations for different purposes:  the piercing tremolo sounds like wild laughter, but actually indicates alarm; the urgent yodel is a territorial broadcast by the male; and the haunting wail is often used to keep in touch with a mate.  Quiet hoots are social greetings and also used to communicate with chicks.

In some areas, the common loon population is declining due to lead poisoning from fishing sinkers, which they accidentally ingest along with pebbles for digestion.  Boaters and PWC operators should avoid loon nesting sites, which are easily swamped by wakes, and also keep an eye out for youngsters that can’t swim or dive well enough to avoid collisions.

Article and Photograph by Margie Manthey

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