Letter to the Editor:

The haunting call of the common loon is one of the best-loved sounds of northern lakes. 

Loons return early, as soon as the ice is out. Loons can live 20 years and can breed and nest on the same lake for many years. 

The familiar nighttime call is the wail, a long mournful cry. This early-season call is used to keep in touch with its mate. The mate can respond with the tremolo call, the “crazy laugh.” It is not uncommon to hear loons from all over respond with wails building to a chorus of tremolos, filling the nighttime sky with a wildlife concert. 

Loons have to nest close to the water’s edge, since their legs are placed far back on the body, making walking difficult.

There are many challenges for loons. Lead tackle like jigs and sinkers are responsible for 50% of dead loons turned into the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. A nesting pair is very sensitive to human disturbance, especially during Memorial Day, while on the nest, and early July, when chicks can be seen riding on the backs of adults. 

The tremolo call can be given when disturbed by boaters. When approached too closely, Loon Watch says, loons will stand on the water and do the “penguin dance,” combined with frantic calls, an extreme sign of agitation, and the chicks are in real danger. Lastly, the reproductive success of loons is sensitive to the timing and magnitude of water level changes; sudden high water can drown the nest.

This challenge of sudden high water levels has oc­curred in our area twice in the last five years: the floods of 2016 and 2018, and is occurring already this year. NASA’s climate change research has shown observable effects on the environment, including frequent wildfires, longer droughts, and more intense storms.

Winter and spring precipitation is predicted for our area; the trend toward heavy precipitation events will continue. In the Midwest, heavy downpours and flooding will continue to affect infrastructure, health, agriculture, transportation and the Great Lakes.

Audubon’s climate model shows that by 2080, the loon will lose 56% of its summer range; it will shift significantly north. While loons may move north in a changing world, it looks like loons will not nest in our area by the end of the century. Imagine no loon calls at night.

Tom Syverud

Ashland