Common loon an icon of the north

The cry of the loon. That haunting call coming across the lake in the evening.
No sound represents Northern Ontario better.
The loon, however, is not confined to us here in the north. It breeds all across Canada, except in the really far north and the great plains of the Prairies.
It also breeds in parts of Europe, where it is called the Great Northern Diver. But about 80 percent of these loons nest in Canada.
Wherever it nests, it is always close to the water, usually in a small lake in the woods or in a bay of a larger lake.
Most people know what our loon looks like. Its back is black and white, in a checkered pattern, while the head is glossy black with a white necklace around the throat. The beak is quite long and very sharply pointed.
Male and female look alike.
Loons are made for the water. They are streamlined. Legs are far back on the body, and they are big—about the size of your hand. They are great for swimming but not so hot on the land. There, they tend to push themselves around on their breasts.
They only go on the land to nest, anyway.
Under the water, the loon looks like a small torpedo.
A lot of its bones are solid. Now most birds have hollow bones, which help them to fly. Loons, on the other hand, with their solid bones, can sink into the water easier, and maneouver better, too.
Loons usually swim about in the same way that ducks do. But they have some tricks of their own. A loon can sink slowly into the water, with only its head showing. He can do this because he can squeeze the air out of his feathers and from the air sacs in his body.
The loon will stick its head down to look around for food. And when it dives, it can stay under for a whole minute—and may come to the surface 100 metres away or more.
And it can go down 80 metres or so, too.
The loon’s nest is as close to the water as it can get. They are not very fussy about what goes into it, either—grass, leaves, twigs, even chunks of mud or stuff out of the water.
Both adults do the incubating.
When the chicks hatch, they go into the water right away. For the first part of their lives, they are fed by their parents. They also spend quite a bit of time riding around on the old birds’ backs. This keeps them fairly warm, gives those tiny legs a rest, and protects them from the usual predators (gulls, crows, pike, trout, and so on).
The parents are quite vigorous in protecting the wee birds, too. Many times I have had them attack a canoe, with a lot of wings, beaks, and noise.
As far as flying is concerned, loons are not all that great. For one thing, they cannot take off from the land. So loons always are going from some place on the water to so other place on the water.
When taking off, a loon runs furiously, feet and wings moving in a blur. It may take him 200 metres or more to get airborne.
In the air, the loon flies in a very determined manner, with a path as straight as can be.
Landing is not neat, either; sort of plowing up the water. Incidentally, like airplanes, the loon always takes off into the wind.
The various calls of the loon have been carefully analyzed. The “tremolo” is that sound of idiot laughter that we know so well. That’s where the term “crazy as a loon” comes from. Apparently, it is really an alarm call.
That long, moaning one, which sounds like a wolf howling in the distance, is another. The Cree say that this is the sound of dead warriors calling back to us who are still here.
The Common Loon, Gavia immer, is an icon for us here in the north.

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