Birds make a lot of noise in the woods, especially songbirds like cardinals, blue jays and robins. But one species of bird is a great noisemaker: the common loon. Don’t be fooled, though. The common loon is not a songbird! It’s not a duck either, even though it looks like one from far away. It belongs to a species group all its own: loons.
The mesmerizing wails, yodels, tremolos and hoots that the common loon makes are familiar sounds throughout the northern woods and along coastlines. Let’s take a closer look at the sounds they make.
The haunting oooooAHHHooo wail of the common loon is the most recognizable of their calls. While it may sound sad to humans, it is not a sad sound at all. This siren is to let other loons know they are nearby. It is more of a “I am here. Where are you?” Think of it as the bird version of the Marco Polo game.
Male loons have their own unique yodel, which they use to claim their home territory. If another male loon comes in and takes over the territory, the ousted loon must change its call for his new home.
Words to know
Mesmerize: To hold the attention of someone so as to transfix them.
Oust: To drive out or expel.
The common loon loves large spaces. There is only one loon or family per 50 hectares, which is about the size of a pond or bay in a larger lake. A mating pair, or a female and male loon, will build a nest together. If no one steals their space, they will return to the same nest the next year to raise another family.
Tremolos sound like a mix between a laugh and a song, but they have a more serious function. Tremolos announce a loon’s presence. “I am here, this is my spot!”
They are also a common response when a loon is afraid. When threatened by other loons trying to steal home territory or predators like humans or larger animals, the common loon will call out, like “I am here, don’t hurt me!” You can hear this call from one loon or a duet of loons, as well as a loon flying overhead.
Yes, loons hoot! A loon’s hoot is not large or loud like a great horned owl, but rather soft and quiet. Parent loons will often hoot to their babies or to each other, sort of like their own family language.
There are some moments when loons don’t need to call out. For example, when they are looking for food. Their favorite food is fish, and any noise will scare the fish away. Lucky the for the loon, they have two adaptations to help them hunt. First, they prefer to live in lakes with crystal-clear water. This helps them see their prey. Second is their diving skills. Unlike other birds, loons do not have hollow bones. This allows them to dive easily. In fact, they are so known for their diving abilities that naturalists in the United Kingdom and Europe call these animals “divers” instead of “loons”!
Haven’t seen this bird in person? Common loons aren’t too common in Will County, but you can sometimes spot them as they migrate in between seasons. Better yet, next time you watch a show or movie with a scene in a forest, keep an ear out for the loon’s wailing call. It’s more common than you think!
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