The Common Loon: Bird of Northern Lakes

By Dave Hanks

Loons migrate though Idaho, on their way to Canada, in April. They will stop over at lakes on the way to rest and feed. Two such lakes are the Twin Lakes just north of Preston, Idaho. These lakes contain fish, and thus are inviting layovers. The aforementioned knowledge lured us to these water bodies in early April. April weather being unpredictable, gave us a bitter cold, overcast, and windy day and night before relenting into a decent day that followed. The loon population was not nearly as great as had been promised, but I did get some pictures – and that was what our objective was. Loons like to stay well out in the lake, which makes getting close-ups difficult.

Loons symbolize wilderness and solitude. They have one of the most haunting calls you will hear in the wild. It is this call that was central to the movie “On Golden Pond”. The Chippewa Indians believed the call to be an omen of death. Other tribes ascribed the call as a message of power.

Loon nests are constructed of weeds and grass and are found along lake shorelines. They use the same nest year after year, and nesting is the only time they spend on land, as they have trouble walking. However, they are built for speed in the water. If an enemy gets too close to the chicks, they do what is called a “penguin dance”. They fold their wings next to their body and swim upright in a maneuver that looks like a penguin.

Loons can stay underwater for 5 minutes and swim underwater for a half mile. Once up, it seems, they stay only briefly before diving again. They would much rather dive than fly – although they are good fliers.

Besides the common Loon, we also have the Yellow-Billed, the Pacific, the Arctic, and the Red-Throated – which also lives in the arctic on small water bodies on the tundra. There is something about this bird’s call that penetrates and leaves an impression – once heard, you’ll never forget it!

(Laying over during migration to the north at Twin Lakes, Idaho)