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About Woman Lake Loons

The common loon which inhabits most of Minnesota's lakes including Woman Lake (Gavia immer) is anything but common. Red–eyed, with distinctive black and white markings, the loon has a dagger–like beak that apparently is perfect for its underwater fishing trips, diving to depths of up to 90 ft. Loon Sitting on Nest

The loon is most closely related to primitive birds, and its soliloquy of cries can sound eerily prehistoric. It is silent in winter, but in summer the loon is truly loquacious, with a repertoire of sounds that haunt the lake with strange laughter–like calls, falsetto wails and strange yodeling. At night, the effect is absolutely mesmerizing.

True to its reclusive and solitary nature, the loon prefers a secluded lake or estuary. It is very territorial, normally with only one family to a small body of water. This bird is an excellent swimmer and can stay underwater for long periods, but its life on land is another story; larger than most ducks, and with its center of gravity toward its tail, the loon is extremely awkward and most vulnerable on land.

Red-eyed Loon on Woman Lake

As a result, the loon nests as close to the water as possible, nearly throwing itself out of the nest and into the water. The loon on the left was "sliding" out of it's nest as we apparently got to close taking the picture.

Graceful in the water and in flight, they are almost comical on take–offs and landing. Their size, solid bone structure and weight distribution result in thrashing water take–offs that can last hundreds of feet. The loon's landing is nothing so much as a controlled crash–glide.

Recently, as I was driving at a gasoline saving 30 mph through the channel passing by the loons nest, the nearby male decided to show me a thing or two. As the boat approached, the loon started its thrashing take-off on a parallel course to mine. I left it in the dust. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the loon finally lift from the water and began to gain ground. Barely three feet above water the loon drew parallel to the boat. I looked at him, he looked at me. I'll show it, I pressed the throttle forward reaching 40-miles per hour. The loon followed suit. We starred at each other barely 10 feet apart. As I neared a bouy, I had to turn right into it's path, cutting it off. It put itself into "overdrive", zipped passed in front of me, and gave me "the foot". Oh well. I need a faster boat.

There are four basic calls, which are rarely heard in the loons winter quarters but profusely in the spring and summer, especially toward evening. Each call has a different meaning and each loon has a distinctive pitch or slight call variation, so that loons can recognize each other.

Yodel – (104K WAV)

The yodel is only made by male loons. This call is used to advertise and defend their territory, especially during incubation and early chick-rearing. If you are watching loons and they make this call or the tremolo (below), it usually means that you are too close and are disturbing them or another loon is encroaching on their territory.

Tremolo – (10K WAV)

The tremolo has been described as "insane laughter" it is 8 to 10 notes voiced rapidly which vary in frequency and intensity. This alarm call usually indicates agitation or fear, often caused by disturbance from people, a predator or even another loon. This is also the only call that loons make in flight.

Wail – (950K WAV)

The wail is most frequently given in the evening or at night, and can be heard for many miles. This haunting call is not an alarm call but is used to keep in contact with other loons on the same lake and surrounding lakes.

Hoot (33K WAV)

The hoot call is not as intense or as loud as the other calls. It is used to keep in contact with mates, chicks and social groups residing or visiting the same lake.

Loon pairs, once together, stay together until the death of one or the other and do everything in synchrony including building the nest. The nest is usually surrounded by deep water, so the loon can swim to and from the nest undetected avoiding land predators, but is frequently exposed to the elements . The female loon lays two brown spotted eggs, the first one bigger than the second. The eggs remain exposed and uncovered by the parents when they leave the nest. Baby Loon On Mothers Back
The eggs are incubated for one month, by either the male or female, depending on the time of day. They are covered 99% of the time. Once they hatch, the baby loons leave the nest.

The loon family stays together all of the summer. In the Fall, the adults congregate together in groups of 15 or 20, and they engage in bill dipping, head turning, jerk swimming, and splash diving . All of this is performed by an individual as the other loons swim in a circle. If an outsider comes into the social gathering, there is usually an aggressive confrontation. Fighting involves posturing with lowered head and neck. Loons defend their territories and young by running across the water, wings extended, and calling out with the "tremulo." They have been known to defend other loons' young as well.

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Date Created: May 25, 2000
Last Modified: