Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Loon observations from Crosslake August 30, 2022

A loon swims in Horseshoe Lake in central Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

IF THE SMALL TOWN of Crosslake in the central Minnesota lakes region has an identifying symbol, it would be the loon. It’s everywhere. On signs. On lakes. And soon to be the focus of a new interactive, educational and recreational center.

Temporary home to the National Loon Center in Crosslake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

The National Loon Center is slated to open in the spring of 2024 in Crosslake. For now, a temporary office and information center, The Nest, is located at Crosslake Town Square. I haven’t been there. Yet.

Signage for Crosslake Town Square features a loon graphic. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I’m excited about the forthcoming center, which will enlighten me about the Minnesota state bird. Up until I started going Up North to the cabin several years ago, the loon was mostly an unfamiliar bird to me. If there are loons in southern Minnesota, I haven’t seen them. Minnesota is home to an estimated 12,000 loons, their habitat primarily in central and northern lakes.

Photographed from a distance, the loon family on Horseshoe Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Now each visit to my sister-in-law and brother-in-law’s lake property south of Crosslake, I hope to see loons. This summer I enjoyed plenty of loon watching as a family of four swam the waters on our side of Horseshoe Lake.

I observed this behavior once, of a loon rising from the lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

It’s entertaining to watch these birds swim close together, the parents obviously protecting their two young offspring. It’s interesting, too, to see how the adults dive underwater, resurfacing a significant distance away. I’m especially intrigued by their haunting call. There’s no other word to describe the voice of the loon.

A loon photographed near the Horseshoe Lake cabin dock. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

On our final morning at the cabin in early July, Randy called me to come quick to the dock. The loons were the closest they’d been during our four-day stay. Just off the dock. It was then that I got my best photos. My daughter and granddaughter got even closer when a loon landed next to them while they were paddleboarding during a recent stay at the lake.

To the right in this frame, you can see a boat nearing the loon on Horseshoe Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I wonder about the closeness of people to these birds. I worried about recreational boaters speeding across the lake and possibly hitting the loon family. It seemed a real possibility at times. I imagine the speedboats and jet skis and water-skiers stress the loons.

A loon photo graces the side of a truck parked in a parking lot across from Crosslake Town Square. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Once the Loon Center opens, I’ll be more informed about the red-eyed common loon with the black head and ringed neck and distinctive patterned black-and-white feathers layering over a white body. There’s simply no mistaking a loon’s identity. Adults weigh 7-13 pounds.

A loon family and a boater mingle on Horseshoe Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2022)

This lovely and distinct bird symbolizes not only Crosslake and the surrounding area, but Minnesota. In 2019, Minnesota lawmakers appropriated $4 million for the National Loon Center. Fundraising is also part of the financing plan. In the end, the loons will benefit as the center aims to protect and restore loon habitat, to research this beautiful waterfowl and to teach all of us about our state bird.

TELL ME: Have you seen a loon? I’d like to hear about your observations of loons.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling