Glimpsing the Family Life of Loons

Version 2

July 11, 2016

Every spring as soon as the ice is out the loons return to the lake near our house.  A mating pair frequents the cove near us.  I welcome hearing the occasional exchange of haunting wails as the loons locate one another, or the male’s powerful yodel as he claims his territory (most often in response to a perceived challenge from a low-flying airplane).  But it is not until the new generation begins to come along in mid-June or early July, that I hear the loons’ full voice, including the fluttering tremolo, an alarm cry that any parent loon will use if it senses a danger to its eggs or chicks.  The tremolo can be a soft, quick flutter, but loons are famous for their resonant, full-throated rendition of this cry, especially when made by a pair late on a summer night.  This wild and beautiful assault on the ears is in fact a likely indication that the loons are in a state of great alarm about something.  I always worry for their babies when I hear it. Some years, the loon pair appears on the lake transporting or shepherding two chicks, but, sadly I have yet to encounter a season when both babies survive until fall.

Loons swim in all weather; they seem unconcerned by choppy water and waves.  While I enjoy oberving loons anytime, I particularly love watching them glide through calm water.  Yesterday as the rain lifted the lake was particularly still.  The mist and low-hanging clouds gave a sense of intimacy to the loon family, a parent and child duo that was eventually joined, with a small flutter of excitement, by the other parent.

Motionless waters—
only a loon’s cry ripples,
downy chick swims close


If you would like to hear recordings of the four types of loon calls you can find them at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology:


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