Common Loon

When people camp in the Border Country in the summer, one of the birds they are almost sure to see is the loon. Loons are water birds that spend their summers on the lakes of northern states such as Minnesota and Maine.

Did you know that loons make an incredible sounding call that sounds rather like a wolf howl? This loon call sounds mournful and eerie to campers but to other loons it is a way of communicating with each other. It is thrilling to hear loon cries out in the wild. Their calls are almost mesmerizing when the long cries travel across the lakes.

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Why do loons have red eyes? The red eyes help loons see better underwater.

Where do loons live? Loons spend the summer in Alaska, Canada, and northern Border States.

Where do loons go during the winter? Loons fly south to the coast for the winter. This phenomenon is known as migration. Birds migrate during different times of the year to find food. The winters in northern climates are too cold for loons. They depend on fish to eat and since the lakes freeze over during the winter they must move south to find food.

What do loons look like? Common Loons are large, stunningly beautiful birds. The males and females look alike. They measure about 2 feet long. In the summer their plumage is black and white. They have small red eyes and a sharp, pointed bill. Their feet are placed far back on their bodies which makes them efficient swimmers but very awkward on land. These large webbed feet paddle them through the water. In the winter, loons change to a gray-brown color before they move south.

 

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What do loons eat? Loons mostly eat fish such as yellow perch, trout, and minnows. They will also eat mollusks, insects, frogs, and crayfish.

Did you know that loons stay underwater fishing for about 42 seconds? Some loons have been spotted staying underwater for as long as 3 minutes! Loons are terrific divers and their bodies have adapted to their aquatic lifestyle. Most birds have hollow bones to reduce weight to make flying easier. Loons have solid bones, which makes them denser than water therefore making it easier to dive deep into the water.

When do loons breed? Loons breed in the summer and both parents spend equal time sitting on the nest incubating the two brown eggs. Their nests are on a mound by the water’s edge. Both parents help raise the chicks and for the first three weeks the chicks spend most of their time riding on their parents’ back. They do this to avoid hungry predators like fish and turtles.

When do loons migrate south? Loons fly south in late fall and return again in late spring. They can fly at speeds of 75 miles per hour! They have small wings and heavy bodies so they require a long water runway to take off (between 60 feet and 1/4 mile). They need the wind to help lift them up out of the water. It is quite a sight to see these attractive birds take off and land!

What problems do loons face? In the last few decades, scientists have found that acid rain which falls into lakes can stop loons from being able to breed. The dangerous chemicals also poison the fish, crayfish, and mollusks that the loons feed on. When these animals die the loons starve. This is more evidence that humans need to stop polluting because of the negative effects on wildlife.

 

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