Anyone who’s heard a loon call will tell you it’s one of nature’s most hypnotic, mysterious and beautiful sounds.
Its haunting echo can reverberate across a large lake. Like morning chimes or an evening serenade, a loon’s call gently wakes us up in the morning, and tucks us in at night.
Canadians love our loons — 800 million and counting
One reason the loon remains one of the most iconic Canadian images? The loonie.
This bird is imprinted on over 800 million loonies. The loon has touched virtually any Canadian who has held change in their pocket.
Canada is ideal for loons with its tens of thousands of lakes and inlets, offering perfect breeding grounds and habitation spots. In fact, Canada boasts 95% of the world’s global loon population with about 500,000.
Strike a pose
Loons strike a dramatic pose with their black and white checkered back, jet black head, and piercing red eyes.
Loons are understandably shy of humans, and prefer open water given their strong swimming skills. There, their eggs are safe from such predators as raccoons, coyotes, and foxes.
Loons are impressive in size. With a wing span that can expand to one metre, loons weigh anywhere from 2.5 to 6 kg.
While they’re generally peaceful, loons aren’t afraid to show aggression if they feel threatened. If they do, you’ll hear the loon’s tremolo call or “laugh,” which is a frenzied staccato sound that communicates alarm.
Home sweet home to the true north
In late April and early May, male loons fly north from the southern U.S. and Mexico to establish their territory and search for a mate.
The yodel, a long rising call that can last up to six seconds, lets other loons know where they’re setting up their summer residence. To secure their territory, males will fight a competing male loon if necessary.
When loons fight they extend their wings and charge across the water to chase away opponents. If that’s not enough, they’ll use their razor-sharp beaks.
Once his territory is established, the male will build a nest for his mate and anticipated chicks. With a mix of mud, grass, moss, pine needles and clumps of mud and vegetation, nests are typically built in small nooks in lake inlets. These offer privacy with close proximity to water.
Occasionally, loons will build large nests on open water to better protect against predators. After the family home is established, they’ll court a female. The honeymoon doesn’t last long and the two loons get down to the business of starting a family right away.
Here comes baby… in just four weeks
The gestation period for a female loon is a mere four weeks.
They typically lay one to two chicks. The male and female will co-parent the chicks for around three months, and then leave the young adult loons to find their place in the world.
In fall, loons fly south to escape the Canadian winter. They typically settle around Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, the Gulf of Mexico, or along Florida’s Atlantic coast.
With a salt gland that removes the salt from ocean water, loons are able to see their prey in clear water. Favourite choices are perch, sunfish, catfish, smelt, minnows, snails, leeches, crayfish and frogs.
Although loons spend as much time down south as in Canada, somehow we imagine they must feel most at home on Canadian lakes.
A bird perfectly suited for Canadians
Of the loon’s four calls, perhaps the most beautiful is its wail. Sounding like a wolf’s soft howl, it’s often heard at night as loons call to each other or their chicks.
What is it about the loon that resonates so much with Canadians?
Perhaps because it’s one of the few natural animals that will let you into its world, provided you keep a respectful distance. You can sit on a beach, by a lake, on your dock and watch as loons go about their daily business of bathing, preening and raising their family.
They remind us of those glorious lazy days of summer when we too can rest still on the water, and take in the awe-inspiring beauty of the Canadian wilderness.