Monday, August 22, 2011

Canada's National Bird: The Common Loon

For most Canadians, the haunting cry of the Common Loon is a familiar sound, heard at lakefronts and on our television sets. The unmistakable sound is often compared to a yodel or a laugh.

The loon is equally striking in appearance: an elongated black bill, red eyes, shiny black head, white throat band, black and white checkered back and wings (the latter are white underneath), and white underbelly. The may also be distinguished by the way they ride low in the water and by their hunchbacked profiles while in flight.

Loons generally live 15-30 years in the wild. They nest across most of Canada and migrate to coastal regions throughout North America during the winter. One pair will dominate a small- or medium-sized lake and share a large lake with few others, each pair maintaining dominion in distinct area such as a bay.

Contrary to popular belief, loons do not always mate for life. New pairings occur when the original pair cannot breed successfully.

Beginning in the 1960s,
Hinterland Who's Who broadcast 60-second Public Service Announcements featuring a fascinating variety of Canadian wildlife--including such classics as Beaver, Moose, and Woodchuck--but none stuck in my mind more than the PSA on Loons. Today, the PSAs are back in abbreviated form (30 seconds each) but the originals are still available for viewing in the Vintage section of the organization's Video and Sound Clips Library. If you want to take a trip down memory lane--or simply learn more about the loon--why not take a few minutes and pay them a visit?

In 1987, the Royal Canadian Mint introduced the new one-dollar coin, the back of which featured a finely rendered image of the Common Loon. The image, combined with initial public resistance to the idea of replacing the paper dollar, led to the coin being called a "loonie." The public soon embraced the coin, however, and the "loonie" became a lasting tribute to a national symbol.

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