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Common Loon not always common in Kentucky

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Story & Photograph By Horace Brown

The Common Loon is fairly common in Kentucky during migration, a rare to uncommon winter resident and extremely rare in summer. The accompanying photograph was taken on Trailwood Lake in northeastern Shelby County one November of a non-breeding adult in transitional plumage.

Their breeding range is all across Canada and Alaska, New England, Great Lakes, northern Wisconsin, northeast Minnesota, northeast North Dakota, northwestern Montana, northern Idaho, northeastern Washington and Yellowstone Park pools. They winter on both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, southern Missouri, Tennessee, southwestern Kentucky, a small area in central Colorado and a couple elongated areas in New Mexico and on into Mexico.

The Common Loon is famous for its almost mystical, yodeling call that travels a long distance and is played very often in movies for the haunting effect even in a habitat where it would be impossible for a loon to exist. However, their loud and far-reaching call that is often uttered at night or early in the morning leaves a lasting impression and is certainly a sound of the wilderness.

The Common Loon is 32 inches long with a 46-inch wingspan, weighs 9 pounds, and can live to be 8 years old. Being a diving bird, its feet and legs are located to the rear of the body, making it very difficult to walk on land.

Their take-off from the water is also usually labored and resembles walking on water until air-borne after which their flight becomes swift. Because they need such a long runway in order to take off, they only inhabit large lakes.

The Common Loon can swim under water with the speed of a motorboat and can dive 50 feet or even much more. They use their wings to increase their speed under water while diving for fish.

Their nest is usually as close to water as possible and is often continuously wet. The nest may be on bare ground, on a muskrat house, floating in a bog, or attached to shoreline vegetation. Little material is used before egg laying, but as incubation progresses, the adults add vegetation from nearby, producing a mass of reeds, rushes, grasses, and twigs.

The diameter being 2 feet or more and the center is slightly hollow. The female lays two, frequently one, rarely three greenish or brownish olive somewhat granular eggs with a slight gloss. The eggs usually have scattered spots or blotches of brown or black.

Incubation is by both sexes, but mostly by the female, for 29 days with one brood. The incubating bird slips of the nest and dives when disturbed, surfacing many yards away. One of the parents attends the eggs at all times unless frightened by an intruder.

The young leave the nest as soon as they hatch and are dependent on the parents for 45 days and the same nesting site may be used in succeeding years.

The haunting sound of the Common Loon will be silenced forever if we are unable to reverse the effects of climate change as it is one of the 314 species that could go extinct in the great outdoors.

To read more columns about birds by Horace Brown, visit www.SentinelNews.com/recreation. Horace Brown is a civil/sanitary engineer, land surveyor and nature photographer and writer. To contact him or order a copy of Brown’s 2016 Bitterns, Cranes, Egrets, Herons and a Stork calendar, E-mail whbrownpelpls@aol.com, call 502-682-7711 or write 527 Main St., Shelbyville 40065.