The Voice of the Loon

Loon calling

Perhaps one of the most fascinating things about loons is their haunting and variable voice.  Loons are most vocal from mid-May to mid-June.  They have four distinct calls which they use to communicate with their families and other loons; these are the tremolo, wail, yodel and hoot.

The tremolo is also known as the "crazy laugh."  It is used to signal alarm, and sometimes at night to vocally advertise and defend its territory.  A slightly modified version of the tremolo is sometimes given by flying loons.

The wail call sounds much like a wolf's howl.  It is used frequently during social interactions between loons and may be used to regain contact with a mate during night chorusing and in answering other loon tremolos.

The yodel is given only by the male.  It is a long, rising call with repetitive notes and can last up to six seconds.  It is used by the male to defend his territory and can be stimulated by another male entering a loon's territory.  Studies of recordings have shown that the yodel is different for each loon and can be used to identify individual loons.

The hoot is a one-note call that sounds more like "hot."  It is mainly used by family members to locate each other and check on their well-being.