Although there are five different species of loons, the most familiar are the Common Gavia immer, which have recognizable large black and white bodies, and a thick, pointed black bill. Undoubtedly the most noteworthy of traits is the distinctive loon call, which occurs usually at night and during migration. It is a loud, wailing laugh or a mournful yodel and has been most closely described as “one of the most striking wilderness sounds, a strange, sad, mournful, unearthly cry, half laughing, half wailing.” For those who have been fortunate enough to hear its beautiful sound, the “call of the loon” will not soon be forgotten.
Unlike most flying birds, loons have nearly solid bones making them quite heavy, some weighing nearly 12 pounds. Loons’ strong legs are located far back on the body for maximum speed in the water and their fascinating red eyes are capable of focusing both in water and air. In addition, they can concentrate oxygen in their leg muscles to sustain them while diving to depths of up to 200 feet. These combined characteristics make them expert divers for catching fish, crayfish, insects, and snails. Because of their weight and leg position, loons generally need to flap across nearly a half of a mile of water to attain flight! However, once in the air, they are capable of traveling great distances for breeding and migration.
Loons are very awkward on land because their legs are located at the back portion of their body. Preferring the water, loons only come ashore to mate and nest. They typically lay two olive green eggs with dark spots in a grassy nest located near the water’s edge, namely forested lakes and rivers or coastal bays and oceans in winter. After mating, these monogamous creatures spend their summers together raising their chicks. In the fall and winter months, the adult loons fly to separate wintering locations, often in the Pacific, until the courtship reunion next spring. In view of the fact that these magnificent birds will return to nest sites year after year if the site is left undisturbed, loons need clean, clear waters as well as people who care about the quality of the environment to continue their extraordinary existence.
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