The Last Windrow: Loons return in spring, and I saw one

Columnist John Wetrosky muses about Minnesota's state bird

Photo illustration /

Minnesota's state bird is now back in Minnesota!

The common loon has returned from the sunny southland where it languished on the Gulf of Mexico, much like our human neighbors have done over the past winter months. Although the loons don't obtain a tan or play pickleball in the process .

No other state has laid claim to this prehistoric, red-eyed bird that can dive up to 300 feet and cannot walk on land. Not even New Hampshire where the movie "On Golden Pond" had loons calling in the background.

One of Minnesota's famous movies, "Fargo," was shot during the winter when the state bird was fishing for shrimp off the coast of Florida. Hearing a loon call in the middle of January is rare in Minnesota, for those who don't know about such things.

I spied one of the northbound birds floating and diving in our local river just this week. The black-and-white-spotted bird was no doubt a precursor to those loons that will be filling up the sky with their haunting cries over the coming warm weather months.


Loons do not call in their southern wintering grounds. They may hoot and whistle to each other, but only when they are in their northern breeding areas do they let loose with a call that resembles nothing else in nature.

The first time I heard that call I could hardly believe such a vibrating sound was coming from such a bird.

Just last spring I met a young biologist from Wisconsin who was engaged in studying loons in the Upper Midwest. He was pulling his boat out of our local lake when I came across him.

He explained to me that his team was working on a project counting loon nests in both northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. A count was taken of nests on lakes and he would return later in the summer to count eggs and then later on to count the young of the year.

One of the concerns to be studied is if the loon eggshells have been affected by the oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico. After a three-year study, perhaps a determination might be made. I'll be interested in reading the study.

Soon the lakes areas of Minnesota will be welcoming folks from around the world and many of them will be looking forward to hearing Minnesota's state bird after which a soccer team has been aptly named. I haven't heard those soccer players uttering a loon call after a goal — maybe that should be started?

Spring on our small Iowa farm meant hauling plow shares to the blacksmith to be sharpened, oiling end gate seeder chains and attaching a plow to a tractor.

Spring in northern Minnesota means that the loons are back. I saw one floating and diving in our local river just this week.


See you next time. Okay?

John Wetrosky
John Wetrosky (2022)

Opinion by John Wetrosky
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