The Call of the Loon

by Corinne Shank | May 1, 2024 | 0 comments

Common Loon on lake at sunrise
Common Loon on lake in Maine. Photo © Harry Collins|

Dusk thickens over the beautiful Maine forest and lake. The sun has set, and the moon has begun her watchful ascent into the star-cast sky. All is silent. Then, as if on cue, an eerie wail rises over the lake. The sad but lovely note drifts through the forest and seems to wake another call, sweet and strong. Again and again it rings out, echoing into the hushed twilight.

A lone bird drifts into view, the moon’s light showing just the silhouette. It calls its long and enchanting song. Then from somewhere in the shadows another call, just as sweet, just as long, floats across the lake.

The Common Loon can be found on just about any coast of the United States. Its favorite place to nest is large wooded lakes with plenty of fish and room for takeoff. The nest is built by both mates and located very near the water. It is made with grass, sticks, and reeds, and is usually partially hidden. The two olive-colored eggs are incubated by both mates, but the female tends to care for them more. The eggs are incubated for twenty-four to thirty-one days before they hatch.

Baby loons are called loonlets, and they leave the nest in one or two days. They become strong swimmers very quickly and are diving and swimming underwater in another day or two!

The new loon family has a strong bond, and both parents feed the young. Loons are very affectionate parents and often carry their babies around on their backs until the young are able to fend for themselves.

The loonlets can fly at ten to eleven weeks and are independently fishing by twelve weeks. The parents migrate to coastal areas independently of each other and of the young. However, the parents will sometimes reunite the next spring.

Loons will eat a variety of fish, crustaceans, frogs, and plants. They forage by diving, propelling themselves at amazing speeds and distances with their feet. From the surface, loons can dive 200 feet (60 m) and at 20 mph (32 km/h). They swallow small fish underwater, but if the catch is too big, they will bring it to the surface to eat.

In summer, Common Loons have beautiful plumage. Black and white spots and designs cover their bodies, and they have striking red eyes. They have black heads with white collars and are about 30 inches (80 cm) in length.

Of course, though, loons are best known for their calls and songs. They usually communicate at night; thus, they have frightened many an innocent camper. Their calls sound like a loud, wailing laugh or a sorrowful yodel—the beautiful call of the loon.

Common Loon pair with chick
Common Loon pair with chick. Photo © Brian Lasenby|

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