Lori Henriksen

author of The Winter Loon

Loon Migration

Loon 1

photo by Joseph Woody www.loonphotos.com


Every year before northern lakes freeze, solitary loons, dressed in the camouflage of dull winter feathers, gather in groups to start their migration to winter on the open ocean. Upon arrival, they must quickly adjust to a whole new life, different from the freshwater lakes where they hatch. Even though loons are born with dormant glands that can filter salt, for some it can take time before the glands begin functioning. A new arrival at sea eases into the unfamiliar environment by drinking rainwater that dribbles along its beak or that pools like a thin skin on the ocean’s surface before mixing with the saltwater. In the absence of rain, a loon is forced to drink saltwater and eat briny fish, which can end its life if the glands have not evolved. This filtering of salt is not a learned behavior; it is innate and essential for existence. Only those who adapt in time survive.