When most people think of the loon, On Golden Pond and visions of glassy glacier lakes come to mind.
But did you know that common loons flock down to our warm waters in winter. While here, they are almost unrecognizable, lounging quietly on our local waters, wearing their winter plumage.
Known for their beautiful black and white speckled backs, black head and bill, their colors become more muted during their Lowcountry stay. The loon’s back grays and their bill turns a gray-blue color.
In South Carolina, we can catch glimpses of loons in saltwater estuary systems, freshwater lakes and reservoirs. They are usually found in larger bodies of water. This is due to the fact that they need a long runway to take off. They need a minimum of 30 yards to run atop the water to get enough speed to lift off. Once airborne, loons fly with precision in an unwavering beeline flight path. They can be identified in the air due to their long, flat bodies, short tail and shallow wing beats.
Loons are primarily after fish, but have been known to eat crustaceans, snails, leeches and even aquatic insects.
These birds have solid bones as opposed to hollow bones of most bird species. This density affects their buoyancy within the water, allowing them to dive for the food they need to survive. They are quickly able to blow air out of their lungs and flatten their wings to make quick, deep dives. Once underwater, loons are able to slow down their heart rate in order to preserve their oxygen.
Interestingly, loons are an excellent indicator of water quality. They prefer areas with clear water, giving them easier access to their meals, but will go wherever food is abundant. Loons are monogamous creatures, usually staying in a bonded pair for about five years. Each year, the couples meet back up in their Northern territories in late spring.
Keep an eye out this season for the lovely loon, which can be spotted in our waters in January and February.
The H2O Nature Center is a great place to spark curiosity and inspire learning in all ages, offering eco-adventure tours To make reservations for the Alligator and Wildlife Tour, please call (843) 686-5323. For information about other water activities offered by H2O Sports, visit H2OSports.com.