Minnesota is the 12th largest state by area and the 22nd most populous state in the United States. Most of Minnesota is covered with rolling hills, however, Northern parts of the state are the most rugged, with many deep lakes and rocky ridges. So, what is the state bird of Minnesota?
The state of Minnesota chose the Common loon (Gavia immer) as the state bird in 1961. The large black and white loon provides an imposing bird specimen with wingspans of up to five feet. The Common Loon is also known as the Great Northern Diver.
The state bird of Minnesota, the Common Loon
These powerful, agile divers probably impressed the Minnesotans with their fishing abilities. They quickly nab small fish right out of the lake waters. Known for their eerie calls that echo across the lakes of the state, you can trick a less savvy individual into thinking the lake is haunted. It is only populated by the state bird of Minnesota though. Only Alaska has a larger population of these birds.
The state of Minnesota legislature adopted the Common loon as the state bird on March 13, 1961. Minnesota doesn’t share its state bird with any other state.
A Common Loon rising out of the water
These loons vary in size from eight to 12 pounds, typically described as larger than a mallard, yet smaller than a goose. The bird’s coloration is always black and white. It has a thick neck with a long, black bill. This unmistakable to misrecognize also has a unique gait because the bird’s legs sit far back on its body.
Both genders grow to about 2.3 to 3 feet in length. They weigh more than most other birds ranging between 3.5 to 18 pounds. They have a wingspan of about five feet.
The athletic Common loon typically settles on seacoasts but also enjoys life on the shore of inland lakes and reservoirs. They fly, they swim, and they dive. The loon’s athletics are unequalled in the animal kingdom. If it rode a bicycle, this bird would win triathlons.
These water birds only go to shore to mate and to incubate their eggs. Their leg placement enables them to swim as effectively as ducks and geese.
These territorial birds settle down in one area and remain for their long lifetime. A loon can live between 20 and 30 years. They annually return to the lake in which they first bred as it feels like home to them.
Common Loon on a nest
The common loon forms a nuclear family. A male and female loon mate, breeding a family. They focus on togetherness. Loons undergo a complex courtship process because they choose a life partner. They use a ritualized process of choosing their mate which includes a process called preening. The male preens for the female to attract her. This pose exposes the white patch on his throat to the potential mate.
The birds also express their desire to mate by issuing their mating call which sounds a bit like a cat’s “mew.” While courting the dating couple will dive together, dipping their beaks in the water and throwing their heads up. Their diving courtship ritual consists of two dives – a quick one and a splashing one. When she is satisfied with their ritual, the female swims to shore, laying on the ground to expose the white of her stomach. This indicates to the male that he is welcome, and they copulate. After procreating, they return to the water for a swim. This swim has function as well as a ritual aspect. Unlike other birds who copulate in their nest, the common loon courts, copulates, then chooses their home site which will be on the same lake, but a little ways away from where they first copulated. They come ashore from their swim when they have chosen the site for their nest.
Common Loon family with chick riding on the back
The male and female build their home together. They may construct their nest in shallow waters or beside the body of water. Both genders gather materials and bring them to the nest site. They pull plants from the shallows of the waterway and take them to their nesting site. Once they have constructed their home together, the female lays her eggs. This process saps much of her energy and sometimes, the loon couple only produces a single egg. The couple incubates their clutch of eggs together. They take turns sitting on top of the egg, so it remains at a steady 95F. Incubation requires one month.
At birth, the baby chicks are helpless. Although the couple immediately returns to the water, they do so with the babies riding on the back of one of the parents. The chicks cannot swim until they grow to about a week old. Until that time, they cannot fish either, so their parents feed them, too.
If you ever hear a yodeling sound from the water or the water’s edge, a predator approached the loon’s nest or its young. You will probably hear the flapping of large wings next as the loon scares off the predator by raising its chest while flapping its massive wingspan.
The babies grow quickly, reaching near adult size by six weeks of age. They do not grow their flight feathers until about 11 weeks though. They swim with their parents until they can both swim and fly.
Common Loon eating a fish
Common loons dine on fish. Watching them dive to catch dinner is an enjoyable and entertaining pursuit in Minnesota’s natural areas. Erratic swimmers are the loon’s favorite since it makes them easy to catch, so they eat a lot of yellow perch, bluegill, and pumpkinseed. Other favs of this fish-eating bird include catfish, suckers, minnows, and smelt.
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