Jul 17

Loon Days

Common Loon
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Common Loon
Photo: Joanie Christian
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On wooded height the slanting light
In glinting, gleaming radiance falls,
And softly sifts throught opening rifts
That cleave the fog-bank's hazy walls.

The splendor thrills from purple hills,
And lights the grassy circling swell;
But, hist! awake! From off the lake
The loon's wild cries, with sprite-like spell,
"Ke-woi-o! Ke-we-oi-o!"

~ The Loon, George Charles Selden, 1893

The loon gets its name from old English and Scandinavian terms meaning "awkward" and "clumsy" which may come from the loon's wobbly walking gait and general reluctance to spend any time on land. However, it is the loon's distinctive cry - highly identifiable, soothing, and haunting which echoes across lake waters in summer twilight and lingers in the memory. The Common Loon has four distinctive calls, each suited to a different situation. The wail, a long, haunting bellow that sounds like the howl of a wolf, is used to signal their whereabouts to faraway mates or rivals. An undulating, repetitive shriek called the yodel, means “stay out of my territory,” and is only made by males; no two specimens share the exact same yodel. The tremolo is a cackle that loons use when they either feel threatened or territorial. And the onomatopoeic “hoot,” is used by members of the same family (mates, parents and chicks) who “hoot” every so often to keep in touch over short distances water.

High summer is a time of many festivals and environmental activities devoted to the loon! 


After the bald eagle, the common loon is arguably the most celebrated bird in North America.


The North American name "loon" is thought to come from either the Old English word lumme, meaning lummox or awkward person, or the Scandinavian word lum meaning lame or clumsy.  Either way, the name refers to the loon’s poor ability to walk on land.  Baby loons get a special assist after hatching during the first week or two of life by riding on their parents back!



After the bald eagle, the common loon is arguably the most celebrated bird in North America.


In the colder months, the birds’ eyes are a dull gray. But in the spring and summer, they turn a vibrant shade of crimson.


The loon's legs are situated  towards the rear of their bodies which helps the birds to be efficient and graceful swimmers, both underwater and at the surface - but poor walkers. On land, loons stumble around and even push themselves along on their bellies!  


Flying, however, they can reach speeds of about 70 miles per hour, though they need a long runway to get airborne by running and skimming on top of the water.


Common loons emit four distinctive calls, each suited to a different situation. The wail, a long, haunting bellow that sounds like the howl of a wolf, is used to signal their whereabouts to faraway mates or rivals. An undulating, repetitive shriek called the yodel, means “stay out of my territory,” and is only made by males; no two specimens share the exact same yodel. The tremolo is a cackle that loons use when they either feel threatened or territorial. And the onomatopoeic “hoot,” is used by members of the same family (mates, parents and chicks, etc.) who “hoot” every so often to keep in touch over short distances on the water.


This tartan by Carol A.L. Martin evokes the intricate and striking colours of the common loon.


For more about loons, click the loon!

Officially registered tartan graphics on this site courtesy of The Scottish Tartans Authority.  Other tartans from talented tartan artists may also be featured.

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