Nature Canada

The Common Loon: What Are They Saying?

Nothing is quite so symbolic of summertime in the Canadian wild as the calls of the Common Loon. They make four basic types of vocalizations: the wail, tremolo, yodel, and hoot. In winter, along coastal waters they adopt a quiet time.

The wail is perhaps the call most frequently heard. A loon will make this haunting call when it becomes separated from the chick or if its mate fails to return. It indicates a willingness to interact.

The tremolo
is an aggressive response given when disturbed by a boater or predator. The tremolo signals distress and may urge loons to move to safety. This wavering call also announces its presence at a lake.

The yodel is also an expression of aggression and is given by the male during a confrontation. The yodel is used in territorial disputes, essentially stating to any loons close by – “This is our territory!” Each male has his own signature yodel. If a male moves to a different territory, he will change his yodel.

The hoot
symbolizes a call of curiosity and/or happiness. Hoots are soft, short calls given to keep in contact with each other: parents might hoot to a chick, or one mate might hoot to another.

The sounds are apparently a learned communication between the birds. To hear the richness of their harmonics is clearly a unique experience.image_column Glenn Barley

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