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We’ll explore the world of the Common Loon. Their range is large, covering many countries. We’ll start with our Florida Common Loon that winter near the Gulf and we’ll cover their migration back to their breeding ground. Note that as a rule, this includes areas that are north of the 48th parallel. Ontario and Quebec have the largest Common Loon population in Canada of 150,000 territorial pairs or about 70 % of the range wide population.
Many people will recognize the loon call from across northern lakes that you have visited. Their yodel-like call symbolizes the wilderness and northern lakes. The Common Loon has a black head, bill, upper body with white streaks, white dots on their back and a prominent red eye before and during breeding season. In the winter and during migration, the bold colors are replaced with a drab brownish shade. While in Florida, both male and female winter loons have a white underside and a gray-brown head, neck and back. In late spring along the Gulf Coast and in north Florida lakes, a few birds acquire breeding plumage just prior to their migration north. Generally, we see them as silent subtlety marked. Their average weight is 9 lbs., with a length average is 27-36 inches with a wingspan of 50-58 inches. Both the male and female of this species look alike. They are monogamous during the breeding season.
Their habitat is usually on an island and their nesting is always very close to the water. Their legs are almost at the back of their body which allow them to swim very fast to catch fish. Their legs are not of much use for walking, so you rarely see them on land.
I spent a week fishing on Lake Rowan in western Ontario this summer. We spent much time observing Loons while fishing. Their feeding is accomplished by diving and catching fish, which is 80% of their diet. They can chase fish up to 200 feet deep, (230 feet was observed and is considered the record depth). The average depth is down to about 35-40 feet. Their eyes can focus under water. Fish are caught and eaten under water. Only small fish caught for their young are held sideways in their bill and presented to their young to eat. I had a great time observing the loons but found them very hard to get close to them before they went under water.
As noted, nesting is very close to the water and it is used for multiple years. Common Loons are ready to breed at 2 years of age. Both the male and female share the duties of raising their young. One to three eggs are laid at a time and incubation takes 24-25 days with the young fledging in 70-77 days.
By the time migration starts the young are ready to fly south. Their eggs hatch May to June with a nesting success of about 40%. There are predators that take the young. Raccoons account for the largest number of predations, followed by the bald eagle and large fish, such as Northern Pike. Many other predators eat their eggs. During this pro-cess the male is highly territorial and will attack another male Common Loon. If a fight takes place, 16-33% of the defeated Loons will die. The Common Loon is the provincial bird of Ontario. The Canadian dollar coin is called the Lonnie. Back in the 1960’s, there was a $20.00 bill with the Common Loon on it. Minnesota named the Common Loon its state bird and the Common Loon is on the Minnesota state quarter. A word about the taxonomy, there isn’t a sub species. Another name is the Great Northern Diver but today we only see Common Loon, or just Loon used. We can expect Common Loon migrating to Florida as winter arrives up north
As always, PLEASE DO NOT FEED ANY WILD ANIMALS.
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