May 17, 2012 —
When spring arrives, a varied assortment of waterfowl transits the region on the way to summer breeding grounds. Some are local breeders but others are on their way north; the spring period gives an opportunity to sight species that we won’t see for the rest of the year.
One of these visitors may not be too noticeable at first. They are usually on larger lakes; from a distance they have the silhouette of a merganser, but they appear larger and darker. If you hear one of these waterfowl call, though, you will probably recognize the unmistakable yodel of a common loon.
The wail-like vocalization of this bird may have inspired visions of insanity, hence the phrase, “crazy as a loon.”
The common loon, with its breeding plumage of checkerboard pattern breast and wings, and a black head with black and white neck banding and red eyes, is a striking bird once close enough to discern the features. They are most prevalent in the spring and fall during migration, and the month of May is when I either see or hear the most loon activity around the local lakes. The loons that are seen here in May are transient visitors on their way to summer breeding grounds in northern New York State or Canada, where breeding starts around June.
Loons are listed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) as a species of special concern; they prefer quiet, uninhabited lakes for breeding, and development is putting pressure on these breeding habitats. Also, about 30% of the observed mortality of loons in the state is due to lead poisoning from lead fishing sinkers. Sinkers made of alternative alloys are available, and New York has banned lead sinkers from certain upstate lakes in an effort to reduce the threat.
More information about loons can be found at NYS-
DEC’s web site, www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7074.html .