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I missed the call

April 17, 2016
Kevin Williams - Grundy County Conservation Director , Reinbeck Courier

Recently, I received a call concerning a loon that was in a Grundy County rod ditch. Unusual? Quite. Having loons in Grundy County (or anywhere in Iowa) is not really an uncommon occurrence if it happens only during the migration periods of spring or fall.

Unfortunately, the call came in when I was not available to take the call and by the time I was aware of it, quite a space in time had occurred. My message had reported this loon in a road ditch only able to scoot along the ground on it belly. The caller was concerned that his dogs would bother and ultimately harm it. And I would agree that the fear was warranted. Although, the large stout beak of a loon could put up a fight for a while if need be.

Through that magical thing known as Facebook, I was able to learn that the loon was picked up by Iowa River Wildlife Control and the post said that it was taken to a rehabilitation center. I hope it received a good report.

From the picture that was posted, it looked like a Common Loon and that is the species that most commonly pass through during migration. Loons do not choose to land on the ground because of the way they are built. The adaptations that make loons such efficient divers also make them heavy and slow to take wing. To take off from a lake, loons run along the surface into the wind. The distance needed to gain flight depends on wind speed; on a calm day a loon might run as far as several hundred yards before it gains enough speed to take off.

A look at the way loons are constructed will show you that they cannot stand up and waddle across the dry land like say a duck. Those powerful back legs are placed so far back on the body to work well for underwater propulsion but terrible for any locomotion outside of the water.

The loon might have tired, lost strength, and dropped behind his migrant fellow loons. The choice to land might have been inevitable or it might have chosen what looked to be a body of water but was instead an illusion. Whatever the case, it was in trouble. Had I been able to answer the call in a timely manner and ascertained that wings and legs appeared to operate properly, I would likely have taken it to Grundy County Lake where it could spend some days partaking of the smorgasbord of fish there and building strength if necessary.

Here are a few facts about Common Loons. Loons forage by diving and swimming underwater, propelled mainly by feet. Before diving, they may swim on surface with head forward and partly submerged to peer underwater for their prey. The small fish swallowed underwater, larger items brought to surface and eaten there.

Common Loons historically were known to nest in Iowa but no more. Incubation is by both sexes and takes 24-31 days. Young leave the nest within 1 or 2 days after hatching and can dive and swim underwater at 2-3 days. Young are tended and fed by both parents; when small and sometimes ride on their parents' backs.

Loons are heavy-bodied birds and float low in the water compared to most other waterfowl. However, when loons sense a threat they can actually expel air from between their feathers and sink even lower out of view.

They are a cool bird to watch for right now.



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