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Loon lore 763a0119

Loon Lore

Maine isn’t known for just Moose and lobsters. Visit any gift shop in Maine, and you’re sure to see trinkets in the shape of a loon or coffee cups and sweatshirts with the distinct bird emblazoned across them. Any Mainer can tell you that seeing these magnificent birds is a treat, and hearing their distinctive call will raise every hair on your neck. While they are shy birds, loons are plentiful in Maine and can be found on any relatively quiet body of water. 


The red-throated loon lives along the coasts of Maine, but its better-known cousin, the common loon, lives throughout the state. The common loon is a large bird with dark plumage and recognizable by its piercing red eyes. Their silly name is believed to originate from the old-English word lumme, which means an awkward person. This school-yard taunt of a name comes from the loon’s awkward gait. Loons have large webbed feet located towards the back of their body, which makes for agile swimming but absolutely terrible land navigation. For this reason, loons spend almost their entire lives directly on the water. They build their nests right on the water’s edge for convenient entry and exit.

Another theory suggests that the loon’s name is derived from the Old Norse word lomr, which means to lament, referring to the animal’s distinctive call. Their calls have been described as haunting and mournful, but these sounds are further intensified by the loon’s environment. Loons typically inhabit quiet lakes and ponds, so their calls echo endlessly across the lonely water. It’s enough to send a chill down one’s back.

Loon Legends

Indigenous Peoples have shared legends about the loon for centuries. One story involves Glooscap, a legendary figure of the Wabanaki, Abenaki, and Miꞌkmaq people. Glooscap is the creator of life and, as the legend goes, once visited the Miꞌkmaq tribe. The Miꞌkmaq enjoyed his presence so much that they begged him not to leave. Glooscap had no other choice but to be on his way, but he created Kwee-moo, a loon, and gifted the animal to the tribe. He told them that the loon had a cry that could cover great distances, and whenever he would hear it, he promised to return.

Several tribes have legends about the healing powers of these fantastic birds. In these stories, loons would carry the blind, injured, and sick to the bottom of lakes, and once they returned to the surface, their ailment would magically be cured.

For Your Safety and Theirs

If you are ever fishing in Maine, please be sure to take your hooks and lures with you as loons have been known to become seriously injured or even die from ingesting them. If you ever encounter a loon in the wild, please enjoy them from a distance. Although they are only birds, loons can be extremely dangerous. Last year a dead bald eagle was discovered in one of Maine’s lakes. It’s a federal crime to kill a bald eagle, so an investigation ensued. It was soon revealed that a loon had stabbed the eagle with its beak while trying to protect its chicks. Although it’s doubtful you’ll suffer the same fate, you’re still better safe than sorry.

-Written by Stacy Oswald & Photo by Mark Olsen