Minnesota treasure: The common loon

Ben Stoterau
Scientists believe loons can live for 30 or more years in the wild.

The common loon – or Minnesota’s state bird – is one of the unique treasures found on Minnesota lakes throughout the summer.

Minnesota is home to more common loons than any other state except Alaska.

On a recent trip to Lake Mary (just outside of Alexandria) I was fortunate enough to see a pair of loons up close.

The pair would disappear under the water and reappear 100 feet away.

The common loon is extremely clumsy when out of the water, but on the water they are extremely quick swimmers and when in the air can reach speeds of up to 75 miles per hour. Scientists believe loons can live for 30 or more years in the wild. 

Loon fun facts

• The bones of most birds are hollow and light, but loons have solid bones.

• The extra weight helps them dive as deep as 250 feet to search for food.

• Loons can stay under water for up to five minutes.

• Because their bodies are heavy relative to their wing size, loons need a 100-600 foot “runway” in order to take off from a lake.

• The red in the loon’s eye helps it to see underwater.

• Loons are able to fly in speeds of up to 75 miles per hour.

• In September, Minnesota’s adult loons travel to their winter home along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Florida or the Gulf of Mexico. Younger loons follow a month or so later.

• The common loon has four calls. The tremolo, which sounds a bit like maniacal laughter. The wail, which is a long, drawn-out sound. The hoot, a shorter call to communicate with the young. The yodel is the final sound made by male loons guarding their territory.

• Adult loons weigh from eight to12 pounds, and its legs are set far back on its body, so it has an awkward gait on land.

• The loon became Minnesota’s state bird in 1961.

• Loons are more closely related to penguins than to any North American waterfowl.

• Loons are the provincial bird of Ontario and are depicted on the Canadian one dollar coin, which is known as the “loonie."