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There is no other sound quite like it, the tremulous wail that floats across a northern lake at dawn, rising and falling, carrying in its haunting notes a summation of wilderness.

Few people can listen to the call of a common loon without being moved. This is the signature sound of the North Woods, and for many visitors to the region hearing one laughing through the night is a high point of the trip.

The common loon, with its necklace of white and checkerboard pattern on the back, is the species that comes to most people's minds when they think of loons. There are four other species  the yellow-billed, the arctic, the Pacific and the red-throated  but only the common loon is found south of Canada in summer, with the southern edge of its breeding range stretching from the Adirondacks through northern Vermont and New Hampshire to Maine. It is strictly a warm-weather resident in the region's inland, migrating in late fall to the sea from the Maritimes to Florida.

common loon
A nesting loon.

Taxonomically, loons are ranked as among the most primitive of birds, yet there is nothing unsophisticated about them, from their elegant plumage to their many physical adaptations for an aquatic lifestyle. The legs, which are powerfully muscular, are set far back on the body; this provides maximum strength for swimming, but forces them to push along on their bellies when they are on land. The wings are kept folded underwater, and the loon propels itself with sweeps of its webbed feet; on the forward stroke, the flattened tarsi, or leg bones, cut resistance by the water.

In fact, almost everything about a loon's body helps it dive and swim. It has the ability to store unusually large amounts of oxygen in its muscle tissue just before plunging underwater. Many bones are solid, rather than hollow as in most birds, resulting in a specific gravity close to that of water, so the loon can slip under without a ripple when it needs to escape quietly.

Loons have been caught in fishing nets more than 200 feet deep, but most of their time is spent in shallow water, where they dive for small fish, their primary prey. Cruising slowly along the surface, the loon will repeatedly stick its head underwater, watching for fish. When it sees a school it dives with a quick thrust of both legs, arcing down like a dolphin. Although loons will catch gamefish like brook trout, they more often tend to capture slower prey, like small catfish and suckers.

Soon after they return from their wintering grounds, loon pairs pick a nest site, usually returning to the same secluded cove or backcountry pond they used in years past. The nest  a low, flattened bowl of sedges and grasses built right along the water  is finished, and the eggs (normally two) are laid around Memorial Day. Incubation takes about a month, and the chicks can swim almost from birth. For the rest of the summer they stay close to their parents, eventually learning to dive and hunt on their own.

Vocalizations play an important role during the breeding season, keeping loon pairs together and delineating their territory. Ornithologists recognize four or five different calls, including the famous"laugh" and a longer, more complex version known as a yodel; loons also wail, and have a number of low, short calls that they use to communicate when they are near each other.

Although you may hear loons call at anytime of the day during June, they will be most vocal at dawn and again at dusk; if there is a bright moon the loons may well call straight through the night. Some people can imitate a loon call well enough to draw a bird close, but this (or the use of tape-recorded calls) should be avoided, since it disrupts the loon's routine and may leave its nests or chicks vulnerable to predators.

Common loons breed throughout the northern half of the region, often picking remote backcountry lakes. What follows, however, are suggestions for fairly accessible areas with healthy populations of loons. Remember that June is the height of the breeding season, and you should never approach an area you suspect of harboring a loon nest.

Minature Ring Necked Pheasant
The gaudy Ring-neck is known for his beautiful colors and long tail. An immigrant from SE Asia, the colorful Ring-neck Pheasant now calls many of America's uplands home. Mounted on an 8" diameter base the bird is 15" Long and 6 " Tall.

Miniature Canada Goose
The annual fall and spring migration of geese in their famous "V" formation is a true sign of the changing season. 10 7/8" Long by 6" Tall by 5" Wide

Miniature Canvasback
Considered the "King" of the Diving Ducks a "Bull Can" is a trophy in any waterfolwers bag. 8" Long by 4 3/4" Tall by 4 1/4" Wide

Miniature Flying Mourning Dove
The Mourning Dove is known for its mournful "Cooing" call. Found across the United States the Mourning Dove is a favorite both on the wing and at the feeder. Building a fragile nest of twigs Doves raise several broods of chicks every year. This handcrafted rendition is mounted on a 6 3/8" diameter base and is 9 " tall. The Dove is 8" long.

Miniature Loon
A symbol of the North the Common Loon is well known for it's haunting calls and yodeling. 10 7/8" Long by 4 " Tall by 4 1/8" Wide

Miniature Mallard
America's most popular duck. 10" Long by 4 3/8" Tall by 3 3/4" Wide

Miniature Pintail
Often called by the handle "Bull Sprig" after his long tail feathers, the adult male Pintail is a beautiful bird and graceful flyer. 11" Long by 5 1/8" Tall by 4" Wide

Miniature Wild Turkey
Thanks to the conservation efforts of American Sportsmen, the Wild Turkey calls more places home then ever before. Their loud springtime gobbling can now be heard throughout the United States. Known for their exceptional eyesight and wariness, Thomas Jefferson suggested the Wild Turkey as our National Symbol. This detailed rendition is mounted on a 10" diameter base and is 11 " tall. The beard is removable for easy dusting and safe shipping.

Miniature Wood Duck
Our most colorful North American Waterfowl. Often called a "Summer Duck" in many southern states.

Miniature Woodcock
The American Woodcock is often referred to as the "Timberdoodle" because of the erratic flying it demonstrates during it's spring courtship. It is found in wet lowland forest areas. The tiny Woodcock annually migrates by flying at night from its breeding range in the Northern United States and Canada to the wintering grounds on the Southern Gulf Coast. The long bill of the Woodcock is the perfect tool for probing below ground for the tasty angleworms that are its favorite food. It is mounted on a 6 3/8" diameter base and is 5" tall.

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