All you ever wanted to know about loons and how to help them
WORTHINGTON -- Last week I wrote about the possible negative effects of lead fishing tackle on loons and other diving birds.
I have always been interested in these unusual birds, so I decided to brush up on the subject. I learned many interesting facts about
the Minnesota State bird.
The common loon has always been a symbol of Minnesota. It graces the cover of countless magazines and literature that promote Minnesota. I learned that there are more loons in Minnesota than anywhere else, except Alaska.
I would not have guessed that Alaska would have beaten us out for the title. Loons migrate through southwest Minnesota each spring, but rarely do they stay.
The Common Loon range starts at about the central part of the state and includes almost every thing north of that line.
The average size of a loon is 8-12 pounds. This makes them bigger than a mallard duck, but smaller than a goose. Their brilliant black and white feathers, along with a thick neck and solid bill, really make them look unlike any other Minnesota bird. The male does get just a bit bigger than the female, but their appearance is virtually the same in all other respects. Both have bright red eyes, which are believed to help them see under water
There are about 12,000 loons in the state in any normal year. They don't breed until they are 3-4 years old, and a typical nest will have only 1-2 eggs. Parenting, including nest building and incubation, is shared by both parents. The young are carried on the adults' backs to protect them from fish and turtles that find them pretty tasty. A loon chick is unable to fly until it is two months old or older.
Their diet consists primarily of fish, but can also include frogs, crayfish and other shore line creatures. They don't have hollow bones like most other birds. This gives them greater weight to help in diving for food. A loon can dive as deep as 250 feet (that's right 250 feet) in search of food, and they can stay under water for a long as five minutes. These solid bones help in diving, but also require the bird to have a long runway (up to 600 feet) in order to get airborn. Once they are on the wing, they can fly up to 75 miles per hour.
Loons have four distinct calls or sounds. There is only one that has made them famous, and if you have ever heard it, you will probably never forget it. It is one of the many pleasures that can be enjoyed when you travel to the northern half of our great state.
Loons winter along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Florida, and when this migration takes place the adults leave first and the young of the year don't follow until one month later.
Mother Nature has some unusual policies.
The Minnesota DNR monitors loon population through the use of volunteers to tries to learn all that can be learned to keep the common loon population strong and vibrant. The one thing about loons that really intrigues me is that they seem totally unafraid of man.
When I am fishing in a boat they will surface right next to the boat and look at me as if to say "what are you doing here? I can fish way better than you anyway" It's hard to describe this event until you look one right in the eye from about 10 feet away.
There is nothing quite like it.
Loons are a treasured symbol of Minnesota and one that deserves our attention.
The one thing that you can do to help out the states' loons, even if you don't live in their range, is to consider a contribution to the chickadee check off on your next tax return. The chickadee check off helps all non-game bird species in the state and I would like to think that my $50 annual contribution helps the loons in some way.
You don't hear much about this anymore, but the check off has raised many thousands of dollars over the last decade. Hunters and fisherman champion for many respective game species, but the non-game species don't have the same support.
I will look forward to my next loon contact and will be forever grateful to be able to listen to the Minnesota tradition of a common loon calling across the water that so few get to experience.