Saturday, May 16, 2009 5:57am CDT


37 degrees Partly Cloudy Wind West 17 mph


On a very chilly and windy morning, our loons have just made their nest exchange.

The wind has been blowing all night long. As it whistled one could only imagine the loons bouncing up and down on the nest in the dark hour after hour. But they did it and once again the nest and the eggs have made it safely through the night.

So many things about loons are so much different than other birds and are so interesting.

Loons are very heavy compared to most other birds. Most birds have hollow bones. This helps them fly by making them lighter if there bones were more solid and therefore heavier.

However, a loon's bones are nearly solid. This is both good and bad for the loon.

It is good because it helps them to dive easier and deeper. With hollow bones, they would act just like a cork that would try to force them to the surface when they went under water. So it very much helps them as they try to catch fish, the main course on their diet. With hollow bones, they would constantly be struggling against a natural buoyancy which would force them to the surface. They would have to use a lot of energy just to struggle to stay underwater.

However, it makes it more difficult for them to fly because their bones are much heavier because they are almost solid. That is part of the reason that a loon has to have a long runway to become airborne. If they do not have that long runway of open water, they are trapped and they will probably die. They will not be able to become airborne.

So a loon will take off in to the wind if they are lucky enough to have a wind. And they will run across the surface of the water while they madly flap their wings. They make use of any and every advantage they can to get into the air.

Their wings are big. They have up to a 5 foot wingspan. But it is just enough to keep their heavy bodies in the air because an adult loon weigh up to 12 pounds.

Some researchers have said that if a loon loses even one or two or three flight feathers, it will be grounded because it cannot generate enough lift to get it airborne and keep it airborne. So they must be very careful not to damage their flight feathers.

Once they are in the air, they are powerful fliers but they can never relax! 

Whereas a lot of birds like eagles and hawks can soar for long periods of time without ever flapping their wings, loons must constantly flap their wings for all they are worth! They cannot soar or glide. They must flap their wings at 260 to 270 beats per minute. Try flapping your arms that fast. You probably can't even do it. But if you can, now do it for one minute and see how tired your arms are. But loons flap their wings like that hour after hour!

You can imagine how much energy that takes and that they must be in very good condition to make their migration trips of a thousand miles or more two times a year! And a loon is a fast flier! They have been clocked up to 70 miles per hour and it is thought that they may be able to fly as fast as 100 miles per hour.

So today, look closely at their wings when you get a chance....especially during the nest change. Or when they flap their wings near the nest.  And look at those wings that they do not use all that often.  But which are vital when they do need them.


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