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If you're enjoying the almost deadly silence by a remote northern lake in early spring,
that silence can be shattered in a split second by a bone-marrow chilling, screaming cry.
That cry, sometimes described as a laughing yodel, is the mating call of the female loon,
or the response of the male which sounds the same.
The loon's cry could also be a claiming call from the male loon who is letting it be
known that this hundred acres of unclaimed territory is now being claimed for himself
and his planned family.
Or it might be, if prolonged, the cry of the male loon as it swims rapidly toward an
intruder in his recently acquired territory, trying to scare it away.
At other times, if its established nest is about to be invaded, the male or female
loon may swim well below the surface of the water toward its nest. It will then suddenly
break through the water's surface right at the nest and let out a shrill attack cry,
again hoping to frighten the intruder away.
In any event, you are in the territory of a most unusual water bird -- the loon (scientific
name, Gavia immer) also known, especially in the Eastern Hemisphere, as the Northern
Diver. The word loon is from an old English word meaning awkward, ungainly. Because of this
bird's almost total inability to walk on land, it appears "loony" as it tries. Thus, the
name loon was derived.
This large water bird can measure up to 36 inches in length from its black dagger-like
bill and black feathered head to the end of its tail. Under some lighting conditions the
head appears to be a midnight green in color. The loon's majestic dark head is a perfect
setting for its jewel-like, fire red eyes. The head seems to be attached to the body by
a vertically striped black and white one-to-two-inch-high collar. This collar has parallel
and uniformly spaced stripes that appear to be painted by the steady hand of an experienced
sign painter. Below this collar is a black two-inch neck band that rests on a snow white
feathered chest. The white stripes on the back of the neck break up and spread out into
big white rectangular spots that cover the black back and wings in a geometrical pattern.
These spots remind one of the old fashioned white typewriter keys over the black undercarriage.