Listen to the Calls of the Common Loon
December 16, 2011
Photo by Brian M. Collins
EDITOR'S NOTE: We asked our friends at BirdWatching magazine if they knew where we could direct readers to hear “loon music.” Associate Editor Matt Mendenhall recommended Xeno-Canto, a website where people from all over the world share recordings of bird songs. Visit www.xeno-canto.org, and have fun listening to the variety of loon calls! Wildlife expert Brian M. Collins interprets the different loon calls below.
A single, subtle “hoot” is a loon’s way of saying “Hello!” This greeting
works on an octave system, and I’ve enjoyed noting the differences
between loons greeting others on water and those hailing an inbound
flight. When all loons are on the water, each hoot is given on a middle
octave. But when a loon is sailing in on its final approach, toes
dangling, wings set in a glide, the loons on the water offer it an
enthusiastic clearance for landing, contacting the flying bird with a
much higher-pitched brisk hoot.
“You’re making me nervous!”
The tremolo is a loon’s nervous laugh. A flying loon may use a tremolo
in harmony with other loons’ wail calls, or the call may be given by a
pair when other loons are approaching. But we must respect the tremolo
of swimming loons, who often use it when they’re nervous, especially
when humans are too near a loon family with a chick. Heed a swimming
loon’s tremolo by giving it some much-needed space.
“Where are you? I’m lonely.”
The lonely call of the loon, a smooth, two-note wail, is a contact call
used to unite loons or maintain contact over distances. Sometimes this
call is enhanced with a third note, adding to the beauty of a sound that
echoes over wilderness waters.
“This is my territory.”
When a loon yodels, it’s declaring territory and a strong attachment to a
mate. Males are the only loons to sing the shrill yodel, and it’s often
a confrontational song declared in close proximity to other loons.
Hierarchy may likely be challenged during social gatherings, and a loon
with wings splayed, head low, neck inflated, and a strong, screeching
yodel is sometimes the dramatic climax to a meeting between loons. This
yodel is one of the strangest loon sounds; it’s a high, shrill, rising
introductory note that ends with a series of rolling calls, “Weeee oh
weeee, weeeee oh weeeee, weeee oh weeeee!”
“Bald eagle alert!”
Eagles have been predators of loon chicks through the ages, so loons
carry a specific tune – the “eagle call” – to warn of them. This strange
wail carries an urgent, hoarse sound, and is almost always in groups of
three. The series is repeated, each time in a higher pitch. When it’s
sounded, you can bet a bald eagle is hunting in the area.