Loon Lessons

Loon Lessons

Uncommon Encounters with the Great Northern Diver

James D. Paruk

The nature of the common loon, from biology to behavior, from one of the world’s foremost observers of the revered waterbird

256 Pages, 6 x 9 in

  • Hardcover
  • 9781517909406
  • Published: June 29, 2021
  • eBook
  • 9781452963655
  • Published: June 29, 2021


Loon Lessons

Uncommon Encounters with the Great Northern Diver

James D. Paruk

ISBN: 9781517909406

Publication date: June 29th, 2021

256 Pages

26 color plates, 8 b&w illustrations, 3 maps

9 x 6

"James D. Paruk has written a wonderful, personal account of loon biology. He recounts thirty years of adventures with loons, summarizing what we know about them in the context of loons’ basic biology and behavior. Highly readable and informal, this book is for anyone who wants to learn more about loons."—Charles Walcott, former director, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology

"The magnificent loon is a stirring symbol of wilderness, captivating even for people who have never seen one. This account by one of the world’s top experts, authoritative and accurate but written in a lively, engaging style, opens up the mysteries of the loon’s world and makes it more fascinating than ever."—Kenn Kaufman, editor of the Kaufman Field Guide series

"In Loon Lessons, James Paruk offers a double treat: introducing readers to the amazing biology, migrations, and mysteries of these iconic waterbirds, while also sharing the challenges and rewards of studying a wary, powerful bird in remote wilderness settings. Anyone who has thrilled to the yodel of a loon on a moonlit lake will love this book."—Scott Weidensaul, author of A World on the Wing

"If you love loons—as I do—this book will amaze and delight you. It’s a marvelous, deep dive into these ancient, iconic birds: how they came to be as they are, from the conundrum of their unusual coloring to their strange and cunning habits and their haunting wails, yodels, and tremolos that summon wild places. It’s also a moving and compelling story of a scientist’s passion for the bird he loves and the extraordinary lengths to which he’ll go to fully understand it."—Jennifer Ackerman, author of the New York Times bestseller The Genius of Birds


"A complete and entertaining account of the bird's history and biology."—Star Tribune

"Increased environmental awareness—sparked in part by the loon lessons of this book—may keep the North Woods echoing with their bewitching call for ages to come."—Natural History Magazine

" A must have for all loon fans!"—The Birdbooker Report

"Anyone remotely interested in loons or birds in general will love this book."—Dan Tallman’s Bird Blog

"This book, almost textbook-like with its details, contains a plethora of information about loons, from their paleontological origins and histories to their current behavior and idiosyncrasies."—Post Bulletin

"Highly readable and well-organized."—Minnesota Alumni

"Loon Lessons is a charmingly written, engaging survey of the anatomy, evolution, ecology, breeding behavior, vocalizations, migration, wintering behavior, and conservation of the common loon."—CHOICE

"In this highly readable and well-organized volume he (Paruk) kindly shares his vast expetise."—Minnesota Alumni

"Written in an entertaining style with plenty of anecdotes illustrating the research data and scientific information, the book covers deatails about breeding, migration, physiology, calls and their usage, winter life, and loon conservation."—Ely Winter Times

"Loon Lessons provides a wealth of information that’s neatly broken up into short sections, making it an easy read."—Northern Wilds

The nature of the common loon, from biology to behavior, from one of the world’s foremost observers of the revered waterbird 

Even those who know the loon’s call might not recognize it as a tremolo, yodel, or wail, and may not understand what each call means, how it’s made, and why. And those who marvel at the loon’s diving prowess might wonder why this bird has such skill, or where loons go when they must leave northern lakes in winter. For these and so many other mysteries, Loon Lessons provides evolutionary and ecological explanations that are curious and compelling. Written by one of the world’s foremost experts on the subject, the book is a compendium of knowledge about the common loon and an engaging record of scientific sleuthing, documenting more than twenty-five years of research into the great northern diver.

James D. Paruk has observed and compared loons from Washington and Saskatchewan to the coasts of California and Louisiana, from high elevation deserts in Nevada to mountain lakes in Maine. Drawing on his extensive experience, a wealth of data, and well-established scientific principles, he considers every aspect of the loon, from its plumage and anatomy to its breeding, migration, and wintering strategies. Here, in the first detailed scientific account of the common loon in more than thirty years, Paruk describes its biology in an accessible and entertaining style that affords a deeper understanding of this beautiful and mysterious bird’s natural history and annual life cycle.

James D. Paruk is one of the world’s leading experts on the Common Loon. He has studied breeding loons and wintering loons in several states and in Canada for almost thirty years. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, he studied the health and recovery of wintering loons in Louisiana for Earthwatch Institute. He has served as vice president of the North American Loon Fund and chair of the research committee for LoonWatch, the flagship program of the Sigurd Olson Research Institute at Northland College in Wisconsin. He is associate professor of biology at St. Joseph’s College, adjunct professor of biology at the University of Southern Maine, and adjunct senior research scientist at the Biodiversity Research Institute in Portland, Maine.



1. In Search of the Ancestral Loon

2. Selected by Nature: A Tale of Two Birds

3. What a Drag! The Inner Workings of a Master Diver

4. Pairing Up: The Behavioral Ecology of Loon Courtship

5. Taking Turns: Nesting Behavior and Ecological Trade-Offs

6. Wails, Yodels, and Tremolos: The Call of the Common Loon

7. A Vigilant Bird: Parents, Chicks, and the Breeding Loon Family

8. More Than a Foot Waggle: The Fascinating World of Loon Behavior

9. Loons on the Move: The Strategy and Dynamics of Migration

10. Not Your Typical Snowbird: The Loon’s Winter Ecology

11. Saving the Loons We Love: Conservation Threats

12. Loon Watch: Adapting to a Changing World