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The Common Loon
By Ed Meyer
Like the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, the Belted Kingfisher is the only Kingfisher that can be seen in this part of the country. There are two other Kingfishers, (Ringed and Green) but they can be seen mainly in the Deep South of Texas.
The Belted Kingfisher is about 13 inches long with a large head and very large sturdy beak. They live mainly on fish and hunt for their food from perches over the water. Many times diving headfirst into the water & sometimes hovering over their dinner until the time is right. Their nest area is a hole in the banks near their favorite fishing spot. She lays 5 to 8 eggs and regurgitated fish bones build up an area for the eggs.
This is one of few birds where the female is more brightly colored than the male. They both have blue/gray heads, backs and a band around their chest. They have a white neck and under belie. The female has a rusty color band around the midsection of her under belie. When flight they make a loud rattling sound.
Watching these birds’ fish is worth a trip to the lake. The Kingfisher can be seen perched along the shore or some times on a wire over a pond, unless they are in flight.
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By Ed Meyer
Like other blackbirds, the Yellow-headed lives in fresh water marsh areas or shallow bays on small lakes. The male has a bright yellow head and breast with a white patch on both wings. This bird is larger than the Red-winged blackbird and the female is a brownish color with a buffed yellow breast.
They can be found from Minnesota west and into Canada. Their nest is woven between strong reeds and the female lays 3 to 5 brown speckled eggs. They will often live in colonies where the water offers safety, but limits nesting areas.
They can often be seen feeding in pastures, farm fields and feedlots. It would be rare to see a Yellow-headed Blackbird at your feeders.
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The Common Loon
The Common Loon, Minnesota's state bird, is far from common.
By Ed Meyer
The state bird of Minnesota is far from common. Many lakes have no nesting Loons. Nesting Loons need at least 50 acres of water for every pair and 2 young. This family will eat about 500 pounds of fish in one season. The female Loon lays two eggs and each of the parents takes turns sitting on the nest. Incubation takes 29 to 30 dazes and the young leave the nest as soon as they are born and never return. They are 32 inches long, weight of about 9 pounds and have one of the prettiest sounds heard by humans. They are black and white, but check the picture showing all the colors on the head of a Loon. There are five Loon types, but it is rare to see any other Loons in this area.
Loons want to nest on some type of floating device, that is at least 10 feet from shore and somewhat protected from; wind, boat traffic, predators from the air and land. Lyle and I made the nesting platform the Loons use on our lake. The Loon sitting on the nest will keep watch, and anything that seems to spook them will cause that Loon to get as low on the nest as possible. Getting too close to the nest will cause the Loons (the one on the nest and its mate) to make a ruckus that can be heard all around the lake. Should you hear Loons making strange noises and acting like they are attacking something, know that you or someone is way too close to the Loon nest. Loons will tolerate the people that live near their nest, but will not let them come close when on the nest.
Raccoons and dogs will cause Loons problems while nesting. Eagles and Hawks will take young Loons with ease, and large Northern and Muskies think young Loons are delicious. Fishermen and women some times will have a young Loon take their sucker minnow or even a waxworm.
Young Loons start to determine the dominant bird as soon as they are both hatched. The Loon parents feed only the dominant offspring. This is why most Loons have only one baby Loon after the first few daze. Years when food is plentiful and boat traffic is light the adult loons will be able to feed both demanding baby Loons.
Young Loons will ride on the parents back for the first few daze, and then they swim on their own. They go to the adult Loons back for; warmth, protection and when they are tired from swimming. To see this event, one has to be on the lake when the Loons are hatched.
Only one time did I observe an adult Loon take one of the baby Loons (I assume it was the weaker) off to the cattails. The young and the adult swam into the weeds, and after a short time only the adult Loon swam out and rejoined the family. That baby Loon was never seen again. The adult Loons will only feed the number of young they can provide for. Unlike humans, that will say, “Clair (get it, Clair-da-loon) you had enough fish, leave some for your little brother.”
The adult Loons will start feeding the young with small minnows and after a short time they will bring the minnow to the young and drop it in front of the young. Teaching the young to catch their own dinner. Young Loons stay close to the parents while learning to fish, as the only thing young Loons will eat are fish. Most of us know that it is very difficult to catch fish on Minnesota lakes on a weekend or holiday. Think how hard it is for a Loon to find any fish to feed their young.
Come the later part of August or early September, the male Loon will depart the lake, heading for the Atlantic Ocean, for the winter. A month or two after the male leaves, the female heads east too. This leaves the young Loon alone on the lake. Don’t ask me how the baby Loon know that it has to head east or when it know it is time to go, but they get to the Atlantic, and spend the next three years growing and getting ready to return to a lake in the upper Midwest. I do know that the young Loons meet up with other young Loons and some how they get there. I’m sure they have a GPS hidden on them someplace.
I know, how will these Loons dive for fish in the ocean with the salt water affecting their eyes. They do have a special CLEAR lens that covers their eyes while fishing in the ocean. This lens is not used in fresh water.
Loons do not mate for life, but should the pair that was on your lake make it through the winter, they will return to your lake. Should only the male live through the winter, he will call in a mate when he returns. Should the female survive, another male Loon on their return to the Midwest will call her in.
Loons at times will call in Loons from other lakes to have a special feast. They swim in a LARGE half circle, flopping one wing and making a strange noise. Soon you will see Loons coming into your lake from every direction. They will all swim to one area and form a circle for a few minutes. Then they spread out in a line, parallel to the shore and swim toward shore. The Loons will dive as they swim and one can tell they are feeding. After a short time of feeding, they will all take off and return to their home lake. Loons take about seventy-five yard to get up into the air, so they will fly right over your boat, and very low to the water. This is one of the coolest activities I have ever watched.
Should you live on a lake or near a lake that has nesting Loons, you are very lucky. You have a chance to observe nature at its greatest. Watching a bird that can have not more than two off spring a season, continue to survive. Take some time this year to watch Loons feed their young, dive for food and listen the majestic call. If you are lucky enough to live near a lake, then you are lucky enough.
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