Common Loon Common Loon
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Answers From the Loon Expert

Special thanks to Ted Gostomski for providing his time and expertise in
responding to your questions.

Photo: Dr. F.G. Irwin

Seeley Lake Elementary

Q. I understand that there are pictographs of loons painted by Native Americans years ago, somewhere in Canada north of the Great Lakes. I would love to see them. Where can I write to get information on these?

A. This is a tough one! I cannot find any information on loon pictographs in Canada. The only reference to loon pictographs I have is from Norway. I will keep your Email address and let you know if I find anything else. Until then, if you discover where they are, please let me know! You can write to me at:

Q. What was the reason that the Pacific and Arctic Loons were made two separate species?

A. Let me first tell you what makes a species distinct. A "species" is defined as a group of organisms that breed together but are reproductively isolated from any other similar groups. Reproductive isolation is caused by GEOGRAPHY (the breeding range of one group of species does not overlap the range of a similar group of species) BEHAVIOR (even if the ranges overlap, each of the species groups attract mates differently) or PHYSIOLOGY (even if the two groups of species did meet and had similar behaviors, their bodies do not allow them to mate).

To the best of my knowledge, the Pacific Loon was made a separate species from the Arctic Loon because of their differing PHYSIOLOGY. The breeding ranges (GEOGRAPHY) of Pacific and Arctic Loons apparently overlap in eastern Siberia and western Alaska, but they still do not interbreed.

Public School 56 Queens - The Harry Eichler School

Q. We had some very warm weather in Michigan early this year. Some lakes reported seeing loons about 1 month ahead of schedule on the lakes. Do loons molt early so they are ready to fly early in years like this?

A. Loons molt about the same time each year (beginning in January and continuing through March or April) regardless of how soon the ice melts on our northern lakes. Loons follow the warming spring temperatures (and the melting of lakes) north, so when the ice is going out on lakes in Michigan, the loons are probably already in Virginia or even southern Ohio and Indiana. However, if the ice does melt sooner than usual, you may see loons arriving that are in the middle of their molt.

Q. Do they need to finish molting completely before they can fly?

A. Only the molting of their wing and tail feathers needs to be completed, and that generally happens in February. They can fly during the molt of their contour (body) feathers.

Q. Do Loons need the salt they get from being in the salt water of the oceans part of the year?

A. All animals need some amount of salts in their bodies, but the salt that loons pick up from the ocean waters is more than they need. To get rid of it, they secrete it through salt glands that are located in their skull above the eyes.

Q.Does this salt play an important part in their metabolism?

A. The salt from the ocean does not play an important part in loon metabolism.

Ted Gostomski
LoonWatch Coordinator
Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute
Northland College, Ashland, Wisconsin.

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