An inhabitant of the cold seas, the loon is not only a bird perfectly adapted to extremely harsh climate conditions, but also an unusually beautiful creature that stands out from its relatives. Unfortunately, she is not able to adapt to our very turbulent age and needs a special, delicate attitude.

Origin of the species and description

Photo : Gagara

Photo: Gagara

The loon is a northern waterfowl from the order of loons. This is one of the most ancient and compact groups of birds among modern birds. The oldest fossil belongs to the Upper Oligocene of North America, with a total of nine species of fossil loons.

Today, there are only five:

  • black beak;
  • black or black-throated – the most common species;
  • red-throated;
  • white-billed;
  • white-necked.

All of them differ only in appearance, lifestyle and behavior are completely identical. Previously, zoologists identified only four species, but recent scientific studies have revealed that the white-necked variety is not a subspecies of the black one, but represents an independent species.

Video: Loon

For a long time, loons were considered close relatives of grebe-like birds due to the similarity of their appearance and lifestyle, but later zoologists agreed that birds have similar features only due to convergent evolution.

In morphology and ecology, these two orders have nothing in common. In related terms and morphologically, loons are close to tube-nosed, penguin-like ones.

An interesting fact: The bones of the skeleton of a loon are hard and heavy, and not hollow, as in other bird species. Because of this, they are perfectly adapted to life in the aquatic environment, that they do not even go out to sleep on land.

Appearance and features

h2>Photo: What a loon looks like

Photo: What a loon looks like

The loon is similar in body shape and size to a large duck or goose, some individuals reach larger sizes and gain weight over 6 kilograms. Loons have a pointed beak, differ from many waterfowl in the beauty of the colors of their plumage.

In appearance, males do not differ from females:

  • the abdomen is white, and the upper body is black or grayish-brown with a large number of white spots;
  • head and neck are decorated with a pattern characteristic of each species.

In young and adult loons during the wintering period, the pattern is absent and the plumage color is monotonous. The red-throated little ducks are considered the most beautiful among the loons. The bright pink stripe on her neck is very similar to a tie and is the main distinguishing feature.

Loons have wings that are small relative to the body. During the flight, they “stoop” a little, bending their neck a lot, and stretch their legs back, which makes them look like a tail. By their “hunched” appearance, they can still be distinguished from ordinary ducks or geese in flight.

The three extreme toes on the legs of the loons are connected by a web, so they feel excellent in the water and very uncertain on the ground. A bird’s feather is very soft and pleasant to the touch. Warm, dense plumage protects the loons from hypothermia.

Where does the loon live?

Photo: Loon bird

Photo: Loon Bird

Loons prefer the cold waters of the northern seas and lakes. Their main habitats: Europe, Asia and all of North America. There are loons in the tundra, mountains, forests, provided there is a reservoir nearby, since they spend their whole lives near water and on water. Some individuals come to land only during the mating season and for laying eggs.

When water bodies freeze, birds fly in groups to non-freezing water bodies. They winter mainly in the Black, Baltic or White Seas, the coasts of the Pacific, Atlantic Ocean. Loons have an unusual migration behavior, where the path to wintering is different from the migration path from wintering, which is characteristic of only a few species of birds.

Juvenile loons remain in warm waters for their entire first summer, sometimes even before reaching puberty. In spring, loons always arrive late, when there is already a lot of clean water.

An interesting fact: Indigenous peoples of the Far North in a limited amount get loons together with other commercial bird species to use their meat for food. Also, there used to be a special fishery for loons for “bird fur”, or “loon necks”, but due to changes in fashion and a drop in demand, it is not conducted today.

What does a loon eat?

Photo: Black Loon

Photo: Black Loon

Small fish that live at shallow depths of seas and lakes make up the habitual diet of loons. While catching fish, the bird first dips its head into the water, exploring the space below it, and then silently dives. In pursuit of prey, loons are able to dive to several tens of meters and hold their breath for 90 seconds.

During rapid movement in the water column, webbed feet are mainly used, which are always shifted far back. Very rarely, when diving, wings are involved, most often they remain tightly laid on the back and protected from getting wet by covering feathers of the back, wings and elongated side feathers, forming a kind of pocket. Additional protection against getting wet — fat of the supratail coptic gland, with which the loons lubricate their plumage.

If there are not enough fish, then loons can eat almost everything that the waters of the seas and lakes are rich in: mollusks, crustaceans, and various insects. Birds do not disdain even algae. Sometimes, diving to the depths for fish, they fall into fishing nets.

Interesting fact: Loons, together with penguins, hold the absolute record for diving depth. There are cases when these birds were caught by fishermen at a depth of about 70 meters.

Character and lifestyle features

Loons are predominantly seabirds, and they fly to freshwater lakes only during the nesting period or for rest during migration. Birds are distinguished by constancy in choosing a place of residence and wintering. They spend almost their entire lives on the water, coming out to land only for nesting.

Adults molt in the autumn before departure — then the unusual breeding plumage changes to a more monophonic one. In winter, fly feathers fall out of individuals at once, and loons cannot rise into the air for 1-1.5 months. Only by April do birds acquire summer plumage.

They fly fast, often flapping their wings, maneuver little. They take off only from the surface of the water, while running up against the wind for a long time. They always sit on their belly on the water, while raising their wings high up, and their legs are set back. Due to the specific structure and position of the legs, the birds are very clumsy on land. The loon sits low on the water; in case of danger, it most often does not take off, but dives.

In a flying flock of loons there is no main individual, so from the outside the flight may seem somewhat chaotic. The flock consists of scattered small groups of birds, between which the distance can reach several tens of meters.

These are very cautious birds that try to stay away from people, so it is difficult to turn them into domestic ones, and also, the voice of loons is very diverse , they are able to imitate the calls of other birds and animals.

Some of the sounds they make are very similar to the human voice, for example:

  • when marking their territory and during nesting, their call is similar to a very loud howl of an animal;
  • in case of danger, they make sharp warning sounds reminiscent of human laughter.

Interesting fact: Northern peoples have a legend that groups of loons, calling to each other during their flight, accompany the souls of dead sailors.

Social structure and reproduction

Photo: Loon Chick

Photo: Loon Chick

Loons are monogamous and form pairs for life. They are capable of reproduction only at the age of three, their average life expectancy is 15-20 years. Loons nest near reservoirs with fresh, stagnant water. Nests are built from grass, rotting plants very close to the shore. From each of them, 2-3 manholes lead to the water, with the help of which the loons find themselves in their native element in a matter of seconds. It is almost always wet in the nests, as birds rarely make bedding on their bottom.

Mating games of loons — interesting spectacle. Individuals with deafening cries pursue each other, quickly furrowing the surface of the water and stretching their necks. Mating takes place on the water. With a break of up to several days, the female lays from one to three dark brown speckled eggs. Eggs are incubated for 25-30 days by both individuals, but more often by the female.

Loons are able to protect their laying from birds and small predators. If a larger predator or a person approaches the nesting site, then the bird freezes in the nest and then, bending down its neck, quickly slip into the water.

Emerging in the distance, the loon swims with an indifferent look along the coast, without making any sounds. If the clutch is already incubated, then the birds of prey are distracted from the nest with offspring in all possible ways: they dive, scream loudly, laugh, flap their wings. Young growth is born in dark gray plumage. The chicks are almost immediately ready to swim and dive, but for the first couple of days they hide in the grass. They will become completely independent only after 6-7 weeks, and until that time their parents feed them with small fish and invertebrates.

Natural enemies of loons

Photo: Waterfowl

Photo: Waterfowl

In the natural environment in adults there are few enemies, as they are very cautious and, at the slightest danger, dive deep under water or emit frightening cries, begin to flap their wings loudly. Some species of loons, on the contrary, tend not to dive into the water, but to take off.

If sexually mature birds are able to defend themselves or, at least, escape in time, then their clutches are sometimes ruined by crows, arctic foxes, and skuas. Young animals can also become their prey, despite the guardianship of their parents.

Man is not an enemy of loons. The meat of these aquatic birds does not differ in special taste qualities and is eaten extremely rarely and only by the peoples of the Far North.

A great threat to loons is the activity of man himself. Pollution of the oceans with oil waste kills more loons than natural enemies.

These birds, adapted to extremely adverse environmental conditions, can only live in clean waters, and are very sensitive to various chemicals. If a pair of loons does not find a reservoir with clean water for laying eggs, then in half the cases they will not lay. When birds do incubate their eggs, a fairly large percentage of the young die.

Population and species status

Photo: What a loon looks like

Photo: What a loon looks like

The reproductive potential of loons is very low. In addition, they die due to unfavorable environmental conditions, often fall into the nets of fishermen, sometimes become accidental prey of hunters, who quite often confuse them with other game birds.

The greatest concern is the population of the black-throated and white-billed diver. For example, in Europe there are only 400 pairs of black-throated ducks, in the Black Sea – no more than five hundred individuals.

These two species are in the Red Book of Russia and have the status of endangered species. Krasnozobaya is included in the security book of several regions of the country. The status of other loons is stable.

Interesting fact: For many years, an unusual loon festival was held annually in one of the cities of the state of Nevada in the USA on the shores of a mountain lake with salt water. People met flocks of birds that made a stop at the reservoir to feed and gain strength during the migration. After the lake became shallow and the content of salt and harmful substances in its waters increased, the festival ceased to exist. The loons just stopped stopping there, flying around him.

Loons do not get along with people. In artificial conditions, it is almost impossible to grow them, especially to get offspring, so there is not a single farm where these cautious birds would be kept.

Protection of loons

 Photo: Loon from the Red Book

Photo: Loon from the Red Book

To preserve the population of all loons, it is impossible to interfere with their habitual habitat. The main threats to the world population — pollution of the waters of the seas and oceans, especially oil waste in the process of oil development. The decrease in the number of pelagic fish also leads to a decrease in the number of loons.

Loons are protected in reserves and sanctuaries in a number of European countries, several regions of Russia. Work is underway to form nature reserves in places of significant nesting groups of loons, with a mandatory ban on peat mining near these areas. Fishing with nets in the feeding and nesting areas of birds should be completely banned.

The disturbance factor has an impact on the reproduction of the population. With intensive visits to the shores of water bodies by tourists and fishermen, the loons nesting there are forced to leave their nests, thereby dooming the offspring to death. These are very cautious birds, so they rarely return to laying. Loons generally cease to fly to especially visited lakes.

In Russia, loons are threatened mainly by the transformation of reservoirs in high bogs due to peat extraction there and the death of young, adult loons in fishermen’s nets.

Loon, being a primitive ancient bird, survived to our times, and it’s amazing! It can be safely called a real living fossil. So that these species do not irrevocably become a thing of the past, a person needs to be more attentive to loons and their needs for procreation.

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