Dr. James J. S. Johnson

“Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatic . . .”  (Matthew 17:15a)

Like people who are called “lunatics”, some birds act like they are just loony —  but one migratory bird has a name that admits it – the Common Loon, a/k/a the Great Northern Diver.  Its characteristic wailing call is eerie; you could say it sounds lamentably loony.


COMMON LOON (John Picken photo)

And, as its other common name (Great Northern Diver) indicates, it is a quintessential diving bird, as USF&W biologist Kathy Reshetiloff notes:

Loons are the submarines of the bird world. Webbed feet gracefully propel this bird underwater, giving the impression of submerged flight, as the loon stalks its prey.  Diving, sometimes as deep as 200 feet, the loon snatches a fish in its dagger-like bill and returns to the surface to eat.  With their [long] sleek bodies, thick necks and short tails, loons float low in the water and can easily ride out fierce storms.  Feet located toward the rear of the body make the loons agile in water but awkward on land.  They only come ashore to breed or wounded.

Loons breed in freshwater ponds and slow rivers of the Arctic and subarctic reaches of North America. They use aquatic vegetation to fashion their nests near shorelines.  Though secretive and wary of humans, the loon’s high-pitched wails, wild [almost maniacal or drunk-sounding] laughter and mournful yodels pierce the northern air, revealing the bird’s position.

Because of their dependence on water, loons must migrate to ice-free areas during fall and winter. In flight, a loon’s neck curves slightly downward, giving it a hunchbacked appearance.  They are swift and powerful fliers, usually migrating singly or in small groups.

Loons begin their southern migration before nearby waters freeze, sometimes as early as August. On the East Coast, loons winter from New England to the Gulf Coast, including the Chesapeake Bay.  They begin arriving in the mid-Atlantic region from mid to late October.  By autumn, most common loons are found along the shoreline from the mid-Bay region south to Virginia.

[Quoting Kathy Reshetiloff, “Listen for the Haunting Call of Loons on Bay’s Frigid Winter Waters”, CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, 27(10):40 (January-February 2018).]


COMMON LOON range map (Wikipedia)

And God made two great lights; the greater light [i.e., the sun] to rule the day, and the lesser light [i.e., the moon] to rule the night: he made the stars also.   (Genesis 1:16)

But it’s not just Great Northern Divers that are loony — the entire world is “ruled” at night by the moon, according to Genesis 1:16-18, because the moon “rules” the night.


(adapted from National Geographic Education poster)

To appreciate how that works, see my article “The Moon Rules”, ACTS & FACTS, 44(9):21 (September 2015), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/moon-rules/ .   See likewise, regarding how the moon continually (and forcibly) “rules” Earth and its inhabitants, “God Purposefully Made the Moon”, ROCK DOVE BLOG (1-10-AD2018), posted at God Purposefully Made The Moon.


GREAT NORTHERN DIVER (a/k/a LOON) by J. J. Audubon

4 thoughts on “LOONY AS A LOON

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