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The loon is the most primitive known living bird. Its existence dates back to the Mesozoic
age, fifty million years ago when flowers, apes ad other large mammals began to appear on
our planet. The dinosaur and the loon (and all other birds) are distant relatives since
they all evolved from the reptile species. The evolution is still evident in the scaly skin
of the feet and legs. Even our barnyard chicken is a good example of this. Its feathers
were once scales.
The loons fly to their spring nesting grounds at lakes, rivers and waterways in all the
northern states up to the Arctic circle in early spring -- April and May. They have just
flown in from their winter home on the open sea along either the Atlantic or Pacific coast
as far down as the Gulf of Mexico. Some loons have spent the winter on the lower parts
of the Great Lakes which were not frozen over.
The male and female loons start their courtship by swimming together in what often
appears to be a search for food but is really a mating maneuver. After a month or more of
courtship, the male and female loons become real co-workers in starting a family. This
bond of the male and female loon is for life, which can be up to thirty years or so on
the same lak, sometimes at the same nest location, year after year.
When planning a family life, the male and female loons work together to build their nest
of grass, weeds and sedge. This is all matted together and built just inches from the water,
preferably on a small island. If the island is well chosen they will have good observation
all around for considerable distances, thus increasing the likelihood of their survival
from possible attacks by a mink, otter or even other loons. The raccoon is, by far, the
worst predator of the loon. It is reported that in some areas the loon population has been
cut in half in the past 60 years by raccoons alone.
Loons are very solitary birds. If their nest is approached too closely by a human before the
eggs are hatched, the loons will abandon the nest and eggs, never to return. With their
nest so close to the water they can literally slide from their nest into the water as
quietly as a leaf settling on the water and disappear without a sound or ripple in the
water. They can stay submerged for several minutes and easily dive to 200-foot depths.
The loon's nest has just two eggs, olive in color with a few dark brown spots providing
good camouflage to deter nest robbers.
The male and female loons take turns sitting on the two eggs for the month-long incubation
period required for them to hatch. The parents-to-be roll the eggs over from time to time
to assure an even warmth for hatching the eggs.