The Uncommon, Common Loon.

loon swimmingLoons have long been considered by many North Americans as beautiful and special, symbolizing the unspoiled wilderness and solitude. I know that any time I have gone to the cottage or on a canoe trip, I have heard the haunting call of the loon. My trip would feel incomplete if I did not hear them as I sit at the campfire or paddle across the lake in the early morning mist.

Here is a link to a wonderful example of the loons haunting call. The call of the loon

The loon is a large diving bird with a distinct necklace and marking on its curved back. This week we have the privilege of observing a nesting loon. The discovery of the nest was a thrill and we are trying to keep a wide berth as we kayak. She leaned forward in the nest, curving her neck into the water to keep a low profile.

Along with the photos, here are some facts about this magnificent and most unusual bird.

  • Common Loons spend most of the time on water. Their legs are set far back on their bodies, which helps them maneuver in the water but makes them move awkwardly on land. 
  • They depend on clean water in lakes and other bodies of water, and are sensitive to the effects of pollution and human disturbances.
  • Common Loons are agile diving birds, submerging without a splash to catch fish.
  • They have red eyes, which help them see under water to locate prey.
  • Many of their bones are solid, rather than hollow like those of other birds, which aid its diving. The extra weight makes them swim very low in the water.
  • During dives, the large webbed feet provide all of the propulsion and the wings are held tight unless they are used to help make sharp turns while chasing prey.
  • During the dive, feathers are compressed and air is forced from between the feathers and from the air sacs in the body. Loss of air from the air sacs also allows the loon to quietly sink below the water surface to avoid danger. Loons can stay under water for several minutes and dive to depths of 80 m.
  • The loon has adapted into an efficient diver but these adaptations also make the loon heavy and it is difficult for the loon to take off. They can be seen running as far as several hundred meters on the surface of the water before gaining enough speed to take off. (I have watched loons attempt take off and it is quite comical to see them running on the surface, flapping wildly).
  • Once in the air, the loon can travel swiftly. Its relatively small wingspan (130 to 140 cm) carries it at average speeds of 120 km per hour during migration. The wings beat quickly to carry the large body and have a high degree of curvature to provide lift.
  • In flight, they look stretched out, with a long, flat body and long neck and bill. Their feet stick out beyond the tail.
  • At night, loons sleep over deeper water.

  • The life expectancy of the loon is between 15 to 30 years.

The nest we found is fascinating and seems so out in the open. The Loons always build their nests close to the water. They choose locations such as on an island, muskrat house, half-submerged log, or sedge mat—(a clump of grass-like water plants). The best sites are completely surrounded by water, offering the most protection from land predators.

  • Loon eggsBoth the male and female help in nest building and with incubation which lasts until hatching, usually 26 to 31 days.
  • Usually two eggs are laid in June, and towards the end of the month loon chicks covered in brown-black down appear on the water.
  • The chicks leave nest within 1 or 2 days after hatching. They can dive and swim underwater at 2-3 days
  • The chicks spend some time on their parents’ backs to rest, conserve heat, and avoid predators such as large carnivorous fish, snapping turtles, gulls, eagles, and crows.
  • After their first day or two in the water, the chicks do not return to the nest.
  • By 11 or 12 weeks of age, the chicks are providing almost all of their own food and may be able to fly.

Hunting, feeding, resting, preening, and caring for young are the loon’s main activities. The bird spends long rest periods motionless on the water. It may rouse itself to stretch a leg or wing at intervals, occasionally comically waggling a foot.

Loons have long been considered by many North Americans as beautiful and special, symbolizing wilderness and solitude.Common-Loon_map

The map Shows where the Common Loon is found.

  • Red is the most Common area
  • Pink is where they are less commonly found.
  • Blue is where they spend winter

 

Canadian_Dollar_-_reverse

Here in Canada, our $1.00 coin is fondly called the Loonie,  because the loon is pictured on the reverse. Loonie picture from Wikipedia

References:

  1. Audubon.org
  2. All About Birds
  3. Science Behind Algonquin’s Animals
  4. Hinterland Who’s Who
  5. Canadian Wildlife Federation

The Curve of the loons back prompted me to include this post as part of the weekly Photo Challenge.

 
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