Waseca County Pioneer 111 W. Elm Ave.

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The anatomical position of their feet...

I am pleased to report I saw a Loon on Waseca’s Loon Lake this past week. I know this happens only in spring and fall, during migration, so I was happy to be in the right place at the right time.
I went online to see how far our state bird travels and came across a whole bunch of “I had no idea…” information I now feel compelled to share. 
According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website, loons are physically heavier than other birds their size because they have solid bones–unlike most flighted birds, whose bones are hollow. This extra weight is a benefit in a number of ways. For one thing, it causes the loon to sit lower in the water than other birds. This probably helps facilitate that famous element of their life cycle–having their chicks climb on their backs. It also streamlines their dives, allowing them to slip underwater without a splash. One website also mentions it allows them to dive as deeply as 250 feet (another site claims 320 feet) and stay underwater for as long as 20 minutes. 
That weight is a disadvantage, though, when it comes to flight: Given the ratio between their body weight and their wing size, they need a “runway” at least 100 feet long, and up to 600 feet, to take off. Because of this, any loon found on land more than a few feet away from water is likely in distress. It sometimes happens that loons in flight will see the reflective surface of a road or parking lot, mistake it for a lake, and come to a landing. Once this has happened, they will not be able to take off. An organization calling itself the “Loon Preservation Committee” out of New Hampshire urges people who come across one or more stranded loons to contact a qualified rescue person or organization. 
The anatomical position of their feet is the same type of double-edged sword: Loons are very awkward on land, but impressively efficient and versatile swimmers.
Thanks to their “torpedo-shaped” bodies, Once in the air, they can fly as fast as 75 miles per hour.
Scientists believe loons can live to be up to 30 years old.
Something to brag about: the DNR claims Minnesota has roughly 12,000 loons–more than any other state besides Alaska. There are five types of loons–all of which an Alaska DNR website describes–we Minnesotans see only the “common” breed, which has a black bill.
Speaking of seeing–scientists believe the red eye color is related to giving the loon improved eyesight while underwater. Only mature birds have red eyes, so it may also be useful as the birds select their mates.
On to another iconic topic: vocalizations.
Various sites mention that loon calls fall into four different categories, named “wails,” “yodels,” “tremolos” and a “hoot.” The one most people think of first is the “wail.” Ornithologists say that one is simply one loon “looking for” another–”I’m here, where are you?”
“Yodels” are made only by males and are defensive warnings, meant to drive away an intruder. They are also sometimes simply a message: “This is me. You are in my space. Go elsewhere.”
The “tremolo,” which some people say sounds like a laugh, is a more energetic defensive call. Websites list a variety of uses, but people I know who are “crazy about loons” tell me it is used in recognition of threats such as an approaching boat or a circling eagle. The “hoot,” websites say, is a soft, more intimate sound used to communicate with hatchlings.
Loon vocalizations are a particularly deep “rabbit hole,” so if you want to know more, feel free to spend some time on the web.
Websites suggest the main reasons young chicks ride on a parent’s back is to help regulate their body temperature, and to protect them from predators, including turtles and large fish, which might come up from underneath. The more recently they have hatched, apparently, the more time they are likely to spend riding. One parent serves as a floating island while the other dives to find food and feed the young.
I hope, like me, you were fascinated by some of this information. I have always been fascinated by loons. Now I have come to appreciate them even more.


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