52 degrees Partly Cloudy Wind S6mph
On a calm lake, a loon sits on its eggs. Ever watchful for any sign of danger. But for now everything seems to be ok.
If danger approached, the loon would probably leave the nest and start calling.
Loons have four basic calls that they use to communicate.
I usually refer to them as two "good calls" and two "bad calls".
The two "good calls" are the wail and the hoot. The "bad calls" are the tremolo and the yodel. Why do I call them good calls and bad calls? The wail and the hoot are calls that loons use to communicate with each other when everything is ok. However, the tremolo and the yodel are alarm calls and are used when the loons is concerned or upset.
The wail is one of the calls that many of us have heard echoing across the lake at twilight. That haunting call that echoes from one end of the lake to the other. And then is answered by a loon across the lake.
It is the loon's way of saying to another loon, "Hi. I am here. Where are you?"
The hoot is a call that most people never hear. It is a quiet call that loons use to communicate to their chicks or to each other when they are close together.
The tremolo is sometimes called the crazy laughing call. It is an alarm call. It means the loon does not like something that is going on. Something has happened to upset it. There is danger in the area. The loon is saying I am not happy with what is going on right now. When one loon makes the tremolo call, another loon will many times answer from some other part of the lake. And if they are mates, the mate will usually swim towards the other loon immediately. Especially if they have eggs or chicks. The tremolo call is made by both males and females.
It is also sometimes made while the loon is flying and in that case it does not necessarily an alarm call. Some researchers feel that a loon uses that call while flying to see if another loon answers from the lake below. And if the loon is searching for territory, it knows that there is a loon on that lake and it is taken.
The yodel is the most extreme of the alarm calls and is made only by the male loon. It says to everyone around, "This is MY territory. Stay away. Do come near. I will fight you to defend my territory." It is used by the male under the great stress.
It is sometimes accompanied by splashing and the loon half flying and half walking on the water toward whatever has upset it. Or it may trigger a behavior called the "penguin dance" or "water walking" where the loons paddles its feet quickly and rises up out of the water. Almost standing straight up and down with its beak pressed against its breast. When it does this, it looks a lot like a penguin, hence the name "penguin dance".
People have seen this dance if they have gotten too close to a nest or loon chicks and have thought, "How cool is that! The loon came right up to us and showed off for me." No, the loon wasn't showing off for you or wanting you to feel good. It was saying, "You are really scaring me. You are way too close to my nest or my chicks. I want to show you how big and tough I am and I want you to get out of here right now!" It is usually accompanied by a lot of splashing and excited diving.
If you back away, they will quickly settle down and relax. If it is in response to another loon, it may very well be the prelude to a fight.
So now that you know how to speak "loon", each of the calls will have much more meaning for you when you hear them. Without even seeing the loon, you have a very good idea of what is happening by simply hearing the call. I have to admit I enjoyed all of the calls more before I knew what they actually meant! Especially the tremolo and the yodel. Now even though I still enjoy the calls, when they make one of the alarm calls I realize that the loon is upset about something and will look to see if I can see what is upsetting them.
But by simply knowing what these four calls are and what the loon is saying when it uses them, you will have a whole new understanding of what is going on.
I have mentioned before that some of you have thought that the loon was calling when you saw its beak open while it was on the nest. This is not the case and the open beak is simply an "air conditioning" system for the loon to cool down. Most of the time loons are very silent when the are on the nest or even close to the nest.
Even when an eagle flies over - a sure thing to upset a loon - it will usually leave the nest and only call when it comes up some distance from the nest.
So now at the office water cooler this morning, you can speak "loon" with your friends! (And lose all your other friends!!! lol)
Questions or Comments or Observations? Post them here or in the Chat Room or send them to LoonCam@yahoo.com