Loon Lessons

Uncommon Encounters with the Great Northern Diver

2021
Author:

James D. Paruk

Loon Lessons

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


Written by one of the world’s foremost experts on the subject, Loon Lessons is a compendium of knowledge about the common loon and an engaging record of scientific sleuthing, documenting more than twenty-five years of research. It describes the common loon’s biology in an entertaining style that affords a deeper understanding of the bird’s natural history and annual life cycle.

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

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.

Loon Lessons

James D. Paruk is associate professor of biology at St. Joseph’s College in Standish, Maine, where he teaches ornithology, animal behavior, biology and anatomy, and physiology. He is adjunct professor of biology at the University of Southern Maine, where he holds an affiliate senior research position with Biodiversity Research Institute’s Center for Loon Conservation. He was formerly at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, where he was chair of the research committee of Loonwatch, the flagship program at the Sigurd Olson Research Institute. For seven consecutive winters, he investigated the impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on loons off the southern coast of Louisiana with funding assistance from Earthwatch Institute.


Loon Lessons

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

Loon Lessons

Contents


Preface


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


Epilogue


Acknowledgments


Index