Outdoors: CRITTERS OF NORTH IDAHO: Common Loon

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  • Photo Credit: Seney Natural History Association

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    Ryan

  • Photo Credit: Seney Natural History Association

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  • 2

    Ryan

When we think about “waterfowl,” ducks, geese and swans are usually the birds that come to mind. However, there is another Idaho bird that spends much of its time in the water. In fact, it spends so much time there it can barely get around on land. I am talking about the common loon, otherwise known as the great American diver (Gavia immer).

The common loon is a medium-sized bird, about 3 feet long, weighing up to 12 pounds, and they have a wingspan of 4 to almost 5 feet. They have a black head, neck and body, with a white “necklace” and distinctive white-spotted markings on its back and wings. If you ever find yourself in a staring contest with a loon, you’ll see it looking back at you with its large red eyes.

Common loons get their name from the awkward way they move about on land. Unlike ducks, their legs are situated at the rear of their bodies and they can’t be swiveled downward. This forces loons to adopt a clumsy-looking lumbering gait as they “walk.” Thankfully, the birds don’t need to be on land much; they are capable of flying away from land predators, and they’re much more at home in the water — so long as a body of water has low turbidity, plenty of food and is large enough for them to take off.

Common loons are not terribly picky about where they live. They are found in lakes and ponds all across the United States and Canada. Because the birds are migratory, they don’t live across this entire range all year long. They tend to breed in the northern United States and Canada, and they spend the winter along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

What they lack in their ability to move around on land, they more than make up for it in their ability to swim powerfully in the water while pursuing prey. Their legs are muscular and their feet are webbed, making it easy for them to plow through the water after the minnows, rock cod, kill fish, suckers and perch — basically any fish under 10 inches long — they want to eat. They won’t turn their beaks up for frogs, mollusks, aquatic insects or leeches either, and will even nibble on algae and pondweed from time to time. Amazingly, common loons can swallow small prey while underwater.

Predators are never far away when you’re a loon, and they come in all shapes and sizes. On land, they’ve got to watch out for raccoons, weasels and even skunks. Gulls, ravens and crows attack from above. Loons even have to be ready to zip away from predators in the water, like pike fish.

Loons are known for making wailing, tremolos and even yodeling-like calls that can be heard from a long way off. The calls are unique to individual birds, so ornithologists (scientists who study birds) can use them to tell whether their favorite loons happen to be in the area. As they migrate inland to their breeding grounds this spring, try to find them by listening for their calls!

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Contact Christian: animaladventures1314@gmail.com

HOMESCHOOL PROJECT

CROSSWORD CHALLENGE

A different kind of project this week. The first part of this week’s project is to draw the crossword puzzle on your graph paper numbered just like the one in the photo. Then you can fill in your answers from the clues. The size you will need to draw is 21x21 squares. All of the words used in this puzzle are in this article.

CLUES:

ACROSS:

1. Lower body

2. Mouth part

3. Swallow underwater

4. Attacks from above

5. Idaho bird

6. Sounds

7. Sound known for

8. Attacks on ground

9. Leg strength

10. Upper body

DOWN:

1. Weighs up to

2. Width of most

3. This color appears only during the summer

4. Also known as

5. Travels back and forth

6. Used for swimming

7. Favorite food

8. Kind of animal

9. Another favorite food

10. Another name for water birds

11. Spreading wide

The second part is to see if you can add any words from the article and make your own clues. The blank spaces are intentionally not blackened so you can add your words.

The third part is to make your own crossword puzzle.

1. Decide on a grid size.

Puzzles are often one of several sizes: 15×15, 21×21, 23×23, or 25×25 squares.

2. Make a list of words for your crossword puzzle.

3. Lay the words out in a grid format.

4. Number the starting square for each word.

5. Create a copy of the crossword puzzle.

The most important part is to have fun!

MATERIALS NEEDED:

Graph Paper

Pencil

Ruler

ANSWER KEY:

ACROSS:

1.White Spots 2.Beak 3.Small Prey 4. Gulls 5. Common Loon 6. Unique Calls 7. Yodeling 8. Raccoons 9. Muscular 10. Black Head

DOWN:

1. Twelve Pounds 2. Five Feet 3. Red Eyes 4. Great American Diver 5. Migratory 6. Webbed Feet 7. Rock Cod 8. Bird 9. Minnows 10. Waterfowl 11. Wingspan

If you have been finding these projects helpful please let us know. We would love your feedback.

Project provided by Angel Dominiq

angeldominiq13@gmail.com

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