I like birds. Some I like for their beauty. Some for their taste. A few for their song. Others for a combination of various traits.
I don’t particularly like sparrows, but I feed them in the winter anyway.
Starlings are about the only bird I actually dislike. I’m sure they serve a purpose, but I have no idea what it is.
Of course, cardinals, orioles, goldfinch and others have great coloration.
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I also like the purple head and neck of the grackle and the wing of the red-winged blackbird.
The ring-necked pheasant is very colorful, but I have hunted them since I was a child, and they are great in my cast iron skillet.
Although drab-colored, the ruffed grouse is also tasty, as is the bobwhite quail.
I enjoy hearing the call of the quail, the blackbirds in the spring, and the sound of woodpeckers pounding on a dead tree.
When I’m in the field or woods, the screech of a hawk or eagle makes my day, and an owl hoot at night is always an enjoyable sound.
But, my all-around favorite bird, for a variety of reasons, is the common loon.
Unfortunately, loons aren’t common in central Indiana. The only time you might see one here is when it is passing through during migration.
Even then, they will only be found resting on larger bodies of water.
Like an airplane, they try to take off into the wind. Even then, it can take up to 500 feet for the loon to get airborne.
Loons live in the upper United States, like Minnesota and Wisconsin. Ontario has 50% of the loon population, and they summer as far north as the Arctic Circle. Since my wife and I try to travel north every year, this is where we observe this neat bird.
They are large birds, being two to three feet long with a four- to five-foot wingspan. They can weigh up to 15 pounds, with the males slightly larger than the females.
They are not colorful, but I think they are beautiful.
Mostly black, they have black and white stripes on the neck and chest, a white chest patch that continues down to cover the belly, and black and white checkerboard pattern on their back. A broad black ring circles their neck. Occasionally, their neck has a green, purple, or bluish sheen.
The only other color on the loon is its bright red eyes. Its bill is long and shaped like a dagger.
The loon is a carnivore, eating mostly fish, but sometimes crustacean, frogs and insects. He can dive up to 200 feet deep while catching his dinner and remain underwater up to a minute.
While swimming, the loon can slowly sink underwater like a submarine with only his head and neck protruding from the waves.
The common loon chooses a mate, and they remain together for many years. Their nest is usually on an island and near the water. Marsh grass and reeds form the nest, where one or two olive-brown eggs with dark spots are laid in early May.
Those eggs are incubated for about 28 days before hatching. Within a day or two of hatching, the baby loons can dive.
While skunks, raccoons and other predators are the main cause of egg loss in the nest, once the birds hatch and are in the water, their main enemies are eagles. Also, muskies, northern pike and large bass can take a young loon. The hatchlings often ride on the back of the adult to avoid these dangers.
The call of a loon in the wild is one of my favorite sounds.
They have about four different sounds, but their main one is a loud, haunting sound you will never forget.
On our last trip to Ontario, we were in a boat with our American Indian guide, and a loon call sounded very close. Our guide was looking all around the boat. He said he had never heard one that close before. Usually, the loons won’t venture close to a boat and will dive before one gets close to them. He continued looking while Susie pulled her phone out and called mine. The loon sounded again. It is the ringtone on my cellphone and has startled many people in grocery stores, restaurants, banks, etc.
Everyone wants to know what was that sound.
I showed my phone to our guide and told him that was from where the loon call was coming. He asked how he could get that sound on his phone. After we returned to camp, we put the call on his phone. He kept telling everyone to call him so he could hear it.
The common loon can live in the wild more than 20 years. They are so popular in Canada they are on the $1 coin. It’s commonly referred to as a “loonie.”
This bird is also on the back of the Minnesota state quarter. While I don’t get to see (or hear) one often, it’s still my favorite bird.
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