Common loons appear in spring at the same time ice leaves lakes, often returning to a lake when it's still half-covered.
This year, migrating loons were observed on southern Minnesota lakes in mid-March. They are beautiful black and white birds of about 2-feet long and 8 to 9 pounds.
Now is when people in central and northern Minnesota will begin hearing the wild laughing call, "ha-ha-ha-ha." It's the only call that loons give in flight, no doubt heading for a favorite lake after wintering along the Gulf Coast.
Designated as the state bird in 1961, the loon is a true symbol of our lake wilderness. I think that their echoing calls do more to create the indescribable feeling of being apart from civilization and close to nature than any other phenomenon in the north country.
Loons prefer clear lakes because they hunt for fish, leeches and other aquatic creatures by eyesight. They ride low in the water, and when they dive they can reach depths of 100 feet or more.
Swift flights of up to 100 mph take these birds through the air with ease. Not many birds fly faster than loons. But it's the takeoffs that are arduous. Loons sometimes need up to a quarter-mile of runway. They can often break water contact after a run of about 80 yards, so on small lakes they must fly in a curve around part of the lake before ascending high enough to clear the trees.
Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.