They say that once you’ve heard the call of the loon, you’ll never forget it. These aquatic birds have fascinated man for thousands of years, and this week, they’re heading South. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
Loons spend all their time in the water or in the air; these goose-size birds are incapable of walking on the ground. Some people call them living submarines, because of their amazing diving ability; they’ll float passively on the surface of the water, and then suddenly descend sixty feet to catch a fish.
During the summer, loons are found in the upper half of North America, but these days, they’re migrating South to find warmer waters for the winter. William Barklow, a Professor of Biology at Framingham State College, has studied loons for years.
“There are four different species, only one of which you see very frequently in the United States. It’s unfortunate we call the bird we have here a common loon, they’re anything but, they’re very special. In fact, in England they’re referred to as the Great Northern Diver, which I think is much more appropriate and I wish we had that term for them here.”
Be they loon or great northern diver, these birds have enthralled people for centuries.
“There’s an outcropping, a granite outcropping on Lake Superior that has a carving of a loon that has been estimated to be 10,000 years old. So apparently they were influencing the Indians back that long ago.”
The loon’s most striking feature is its haunting call. For Native Americans, it’s the stuff of legend.
The Cree Indians had one, that the wail, that mournful sound, one of the four calls that the loon makes, is a warrior forbidden entry into heaven, and that at night he is howling out his plight at not being able to get to heaven.”
I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.