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Loon Vocalizations
What are you hearing and what does it mean?


As the audio clip plays through, you will hear 4 distinctive vocalizations (calls) made by the common loon. Each distinct sound means different things in loon communication. The calls are in order, beginning with the yodel, followed by the wail, tremolo and the hoot. Each vocalization is played for approximately 10-12 seconds.

Loon Vocalization- Real Audio format
Courtesy of Elliot Lang and Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs, Eastern/Central
Download Real Audio Player

Lone Swiming Loon The Yodel
The yodel is the territorial call of the male. It is a wail followed by loud undulating notes. This call is produced exclusively by males, and is used in territorial situations, when establishing borders and in aggressive encounters with other birds. Males will also yodel if a predator is seen that may be approaching the chicks, such as when an eagle flies overhead. It is most frequently given during nesting. Yodeling males crouch flat to the water with their head and neck extended and the lower bill just over the water

2 Swiming Loons The Wail
The wail sounds like the howl of a wolf (This sample includes a 3-part and a 4-part wail) The wail is a long, one, two, or three note call used in situations when loons want to move closer to one another, when one loon is attempting to maintain contact with another or trying to locate a mate or a chick. Parents will wail to their chicks to encourage the chicks to leave the nest, approach the parents when they have food, or emerge from a hiding place; the loon version of ‘come here’ and ‘here I come’. It has also been called the night call, and the storm call.

Loon Taking OffThe Tremolo
The tremolo is a tremulous vibrato (This sample is a pair of loons alternating calls) often called the "laughing call" of the loon. However, the tremolo is actually an alarm call in threatening situations, such as when a boat is approaching a chick or a nest too closely. Tremolos are frequently given by excited loons after a disturbance of the nest or chicks; they may attempt to draw intruders away from the chicks by distracting them to the location of the disturbance. This call is also often produced by flying loons (the only in-flight call), when a loon is chased away from another’s territory and it is used in the "nocturnal chorus". Members of a pair will duet using tremolo calls. Tremolo duets are performed by pairs when young are threatened, but also as a territorial proclamation in early spring. Adults give this call especially while dancing nearly upright or running over the water. Tremolos may also be given in association with escape by diving or take off. Tremolo Types I, II and III vary in intensity and generally are in order of the birds increasing concern and anxiety. If given in the presence of a human, the Loon is very agitated and should be left alone. Otherwise, the loon may take leave of its nest allowing it to become exposed to predators or it may choose to abandon its’ nest site completely.

Swiming Loon Family The Hoot
The hoot is a soft note, given intimately among loons. It is a soft short (one note) contact call between birds. Adults will hoot to each other, and parents will hoot to chicks, enabling them to keep in touch with the whereabouts of the other birds. It is specifically used when a loon is maintaining close contact with another in a family group or small flock. It is used to communicate the location of the sending loon. It may be used during social gatherings, or by the adults to call chicks for feeding. The hoot is the call most likely to be used in the winter; though it appears loons could perform any call at any time, they are nearly silent in the winter.

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