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Loon language The hidden meaning behind the common loon's iconic calls

The common loon is native to Wisconsin and resides in the northern third of the state during the summer. Starting in fall and leading into winter, loons migrate south to the Gulf of Mexico or head east to the Atlantic Ocean. Come spring, loons can be seen in the southern part of Wisconsin as they make their way north, stopping to rest on any unfrozen body of water.

Hear the calls of the common loon

Wail Hoot

Loons produce two different wail calls that are used to alert other members of trouble.

One-wail: One of the most common sounds heard from loons and is used to alert others of trouble or to tell others to regroup.

Two-wail: Used specifically to warn others of a bald eagle sighting. Bald eagles are natural predators of loons and their chicks.

The hoot is a contact call used by adults to calmly notify chicks and others of their presence.

Tremolo Yodel

The tremolo call is made when a loon feels threatened and is sounded when predators or people get too close.

The yodel is produced only by males and is used in territorial disputes when one male tries to take over another's territory on a lake. In these territorial battles, it is common for males to fight each other, sometimes with deadly results.


The mew is a courtship call used by both males and females when selecting breeding mates. Loon pairs do not mate for life, but a breeding pair will remain together through the breeding season in early spring, and split up once the fall migration begins.

Last revised: Wednesday January 02 2019