Wednesday, May 16, 2012 5:45am CDT


40 degrees F   Clear     Calm


It apparently has been a quiet night for our loons.  Thank you to those who have kept watch all night.

Today also promises to be a quieter day for them with much less wind than they faced yesterday.

Shortly after 11 o'clock last night, repeated wails and tremolos from the nest signaled that something was upsetting the loon.  It was the muskrat.

He decided to make a return visit to the nest but sat well out of reach of the loon.  He sat only partially in the picture on the lower right hand side for about 3 minutes.  With only part of his body showing, I could not see what he was doing.  But the only thing there that might interest him is what little is left of the willow branches on that corner of the nesting platform that the beaver left after he gnawed them off a week or more ago.

As long as the muskrat was there, the loon was not a happy camper.  Repeated wails and yodels reminded the muskrat, as if he needed reminding, that he was not welcome there.

But at least it was not the beaver or the raccoon.

The beaver concerns me much less than the raccoon.  Raccoon are notorious egg predators and are responsible for the destruction of more shore-based loon nests than almost any other predator.

Someone asked me if we have mink on 'loon lake'.

The answer is yes.  Although you rarely see them.

Amazingly I saw the first one that I have seen in years only a few weeks ago.  The good folks from Broadband were here and we were working on installing new cable for you to see and hear the LoonCam.  One of them said "What is that down by the lake?"  

I turned to look and there was one of the biggest mink I have ever seen casually loping along the shore of the lake!  Like I said, I know they are here but I had not seen one for many years and never one that large.  Mink are also known as vicious predators and are also known to take loon eggs.  They are also strong swimmers but as far as I know, one has never been seen around this nest.

We can only hope that all of them stay away!

This might be as good a time as any to review the different calls that loons make and the meaning is of each of those calls since there are so many new people now coming on to view the LoonCam, many for the first time.  We welcome you!

Loons make four basic calls.

1.  Wail     2.  Tremolo     3.  Yodel     4.  Hoot

The Wail

This call is probably the most common call that people hear and is the call that many people think of when they think of loons.  It is a long, undulating, mournful call.  It stirs something deep within us and is so representative of being by a lake in the great wilderness areas of the north.

There is something so primeval about it and so haunting.  Once you first hear that call echoing out over a northern lake, you never forget it.

Most of the time it is one loon simply trying to locate its partner.  "I am here.  Where are you?"  Often you will hear the other loon answer from across the lake, "I am here.  Where are you?"

The Tremolo

This call is an alarm call.  Made by both the male and female loon, it is used when a loon is concerned about something.  It is a call that signifies danger or distress.  It may be an intruder loon in the area that is causing distress.  It may be a boat or a canoe getting too close to the nest.  It may be a predator.  It may be an eagle overhead.

But something is causing the loon to be concerned.  

Many times both loons will tremolo at the same time in response to some perceived danger.

Sometimes it has been referred to the 'crazy laughing call'.  You can see why when you hear it.

The Yodel

This is the most extreme of the distress calls made by loons.

The yodel is ONLY made by the male loon.

So if you see a loon making a yodel call, you know you are looking at the male.  It is one of the few ways that you can definitively tell which loon is the male.

This call is used many times by the male to establish their territory.

They will lower their head with their neck stretched out almost parallel to the surface of the lake as they rotate almost like an air-raid siren or a tornado warning siren and broadcast their yodel to anyone within hearing.  It is a very loud call.  And the yodel travels well over water, sometimes being heard miles away.

Here is a great picture by Gerrit Vyn showing a loon making the yodel call.

The Hoot

This call is a very quiet call and one which few people ever hear.  But you have heard it here on the LoonCam.

It is a call that is used when two adults are close to each other or when the parents are near the chicks.


I usually classify the calls as two "good" calls and two "bad" calls.

The tremolo and the yodel are calls that are made when the loon is upset or under stress.  That is why I call them "bad" calls - although there really is no such thing as a bad call.  It is simply part of their language.  The wail and the hoot usually are used when a loon is usually not under stess and therefore are "good" calls.

You can hear good examples of all four calls here

There are some variations of the calls that we can maybe talk about sometime but now you know the four basic loon calls.

And now you know what the loons are saying when you hear each of the calls.

I have to admit that I enjoyed all of the calls much more before I learned that the tremolo and the yodel were telling me that the loon was upset about something and was under stress.

But even knowing that, they are still beautiful.

And each time I hear them, I am sitting around a campfire at night at a campsite along a lakeshore in the wilderness of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.  Or I am at a cabin on some northern lake.

They immediately bring back such wonderful memories of beauty and wilderness and all that is good in the world!

May they bring back wonderful memories for you as well.


Comments or Questions?   LoonCam(at)yahoo(dot)com

Copyright 2012     Larry Backlund