Common loons have this yodel, a call we all know even if we don’t realize it. It’s so, well, ‘wild.’ Hearing their lonely call in a film or on TV immediately transports my mind to a distant Alaskan anchorage or northern lake. Ahhh! They’re here in winter and we often see them fishing the Salish Sea dressed in rather dull colors, but in spring before they head north, this all changes to a most vibrant suit of colors – even the eye changes to red. Large and heavy birds who dive for fish, loons have evolved to become truly specialized at what they do. With legs shoved far aft to optimize propulsion, loons cannot walk on land. Instead, they scoot along and push themselves up onto the only land they know, a floating nest of brush and grass only an inch or so above water level.
Some seabirds can actually fly underwater using their wings, but loons only use those powerful feet and legs to swim. While most birds have hollow bones to lighten flying mode, loons have solid bones to save energy while diving, and they can actually surface with only heads above the surface like a periscope. Most diving birds need to surface to swallow their fishy catch, but loons efficiently swallow their meal while still underwater. These are big birds. Loons have a wingspan of 50-55 inches and weigh up to 19 lbs. Let’s compare: bald eagles have wingspans of up to 80” but adults normally only weigh in at around 14 lbs. With solid bones and less buoyancy, loons are far better at fetching dinner than eagles. I hope you watch for them – I sure am.
Larry Eifert paints and writes about wild places. His work is in many national parks across America – and at larryeifert.com.