The Call of the Loon: The Mood of Ontario’s Wilderness

A loon’s mournful cry piercing the stillness of the night conjures up images of mist shrouded shorelines surrounded by deep primeval forests.

Luckily, loons are not so secretive that they don’t reveal their beauty to us. The Common Loon is a resident of many cottage country lakes, keeping a safe but visible and audible distance from human activity. For many of us, the loon provides that magical first connection to nature, making it a fitting subject for artist and naturalist Robert Bateman.

The Common Loon has four distinct calls. The tremolo sounds like a crazy laugh and is used to signal alarm, annoyance or greeting. It says, “I’m here, so take note!” or, “Danger, Danger!”.

The wail is perhaps the loveliest of loon calls. It is used frequently during social interactions between loons. The wail may be used to regain contact with a mate during night chorusing and in answering other loon tremolos. It says, “I’m over here….how’s everybody doing?”.

The yodel is given only by the male. It is a long, rising call followed by a loud repetitive note. It is used by the male to defend territory and can be stimulated by another male entering a loon’s territory. It says, “Watch it buddy, you’ve crossed a line!”.

The hoot is a one-note call that sounds more like hoo. It is mainly used by family members trying to locate each other and check on their well-being. It asks, “Are you okay?”.

Loons can stay submerged in water for almost a minute and reach depths of about 80 metres during dives for fish. This action is aided by adjustable air sacs and many solid bones that allow for easier diving. However, this heavy-boned bird needs hundreds of metres to get off the water. Once in the air, it can reach a speed of over 120 km per hour during migration!

Loons have been impacted by lead sinkers that make their way into our lakes with lost fishing tackle. Loons are dying from ingestion of these sinkers, which cause nerve, kidney, and other tissue damage. Using non-lead sinkers is an easy way people can help loons live for up to 30 years.