110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Lynn Bowen
posted Jun 2, 2013 - 2:58:49pm
Just like humans, birds have a cycle of life that includes being young, juvenile, middle-aged and old. Like people, they have accidents, illnesses, or aging problems. Having good instincts, good genes, and just plain good luck plays a huge part in any creature's life.
The common loon at the Mary Kelly Seabird Rehabilitation Sanctuary in Ponce Inlet that I visited last December is an old guy, according to the knowledgeable caretaker there. Since loons live to be 25 years old in the wild, this one is probably about that age. He will never get his breeding plumage again, but is being pampered until he feels better or goes to birdie heaven.
A typical common loon is 32 inches long, has a wingspan of 46 inches, and weighs 6 to 11 pounds. This is one of the few birds that do not have hollow bones. The heavy bones and unique lungs are designed by nature to enable loons to be excellent divers.
The loon's lungs are flat and close to the back ribs. When the bird breathes in, air goes through its lungs into huge air sacs and continues through much of its body cavity.
Although loons can fly at up to 70 mph, they can never glide or soar because they are so heavy. They must constantly flap their wings to stay in the air.
Their habitat is salt water or fresh water, but fresh is their preference. Their diet is mainly fish, with perhaps a frog or snail for dessert once in a while. Their webbed toes, large feet and powerful body propel them underwater up to 200 feet!
At breeding time, from March through October, the loon is gorgeous so it can attract a mate. At that time, the bird has extensive white checkering on its back, a black head and bill, and ruby-red eyes. Males and females look alike. The rest of the year, they are a drab tan, with brown eyes and brown bill, but still beautiful.
Their legs are set far back on their bodies, making it difficult for the big-footed bird to walk. In fact, the only time a loon comes on shore is when it is going to breed and build a nest. Swimming and flying are the bird's best ways to reach destinations!
The common loon gets its name from "lunar," referring to the moon. The bird's eerie, yodellike calls echo through the still night, making its presence known.
Common loons seldom come to Florida. It is always sad to see a bird in failing health, like the loon at the Mary Kelly Sanctuary, but it was still a pleasure to see this bird up close.
— Bowen lives in DeLand. Send email to her at email@example.com.
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