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6 Loon-y Facts About the Common Loon

November 13, 2015

This iconic bird ranges across Canada and the northern U.S. Don't let the name fool you, though. Check out some loon-y details about the common loon, via WCS Canada.

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Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS

1. Loons are experts in the water.

Unlike most birds, they have solid bones which make them less buoyant and they conserve oxygen underwater by slowing their heartbeat. They can also flatten their feathers quickly to become more streamlined.

2. They have Olympic-level talent.

When their quarry changes direction, loons can execute an abrupt flip-turn that would make Olympic swimmers jealous. They extend one foot laterally as a pivot brake and kick with the opposite foot to turn 180 degrees in a fraction of a second.

3. This makes them expert fishermen.

By propelling themselves forward with their feet, loons can catch their fish underwater and eat it on the spot. They've also got sharp teeth that protrude from the tops of their mouths to hold on to slippery prey.

4. They are a great sign for water.

Loons are excellent indicators of water quality as they require crystal-clear lakes, which makes it easier for them to see prey underwater, with abundant populations of small fish.

5. Taking off takes work.

These birds require a long runway to get airborne, splashing their wings and feet on the surface of the water for up to a half kilometer before they finally take flight. Perhaps that's why after molting in mid-winter, they are completely flightless for a couple weeks.

6. They sound a bit ... loon-y.

After sundown, many North Woods lakes reverberate with the echoes of loon wails and yodels and tremolos, which writer John McPhee has described as, "the laugh of the deeply insane."

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Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

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