The Walking Loon


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It sounds like the name of a micro-brew beer or a smaller wineries label, but it is actually something that grudgingly happens in nature. You see, loons aren’t really made to walk. Their build… not designed for walking. Ponderous ungainly flying… sure, they’re pretty good at that. Agile, vigorous swimming… they’re better at it than many of the fish that they catch and eat. Walking though… judge for yourself from these photographs of a Red-throated Loon-

The Red-thraoted loon, like all loons is very at home floating on the water or swimming below the surface

I photographed this Red-throat one day while I was kayaking on Tomales Bay, taking pictures of a yellow-billed Loon, one of the more uncommon loons that we find here on Tomales Bay (or most places for that matter). I find the Red-throats to be very beautiful though, with their more delicate, slender lines, and since they were near each other I took advantage by photographing both as I drifted in my kayak.

It looks fine right here, as it is first emerging onto land

As I was watching the loons they decided it was time to head onto the beach for a little rest. And I saw one of the more ungainly attempts at walking that I had ever imagined.

The head drops down and sticks out ahead as they attempt to balance on a body that was made for swimming

They burst into this shuffling sort of run, where they work to keep their feet underneath them, as their body balances too far forward on legs that were set too far back (for swimming). If they stuck to a slower pace they would land one their… do birds have chins? Not really, but it just doesn’t sound the same to say that “they’d land on their beaks.” Their bodies weight carries them forward, and their feet struggle to stay under them.

You can see the Yellow-billed Loon has already retreated to the beach, and is laying there in the background

They work so hard, and put so much effort into making it just a few feet up the beach. I’ve never seen another bird that looked so alien to land, as the loon when it tries to walk. Please, never approach a loon that is lying on the shore. If it is there, it is for a reason, and it needs its rest. It costs them so much to get there, that it would just seem cruel to chase them back into the water.

At least when they lay there on the sand (they don't stand, only lay) they look more comfortable. The loon in front is the Yellow-billed

About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
This entry was posted in kayak photography, loons, nature photography, Photo Essay and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Walking Loon

  1. Interesting photos, Galen. Wow – their legs really are set back too far for walking! Amazing to see them giving it a try!

  2. sean lemert says:

    thanks for the teaching. never thought before that some creature has a hard time in my element, earth. Now I don’t feel so bad that being in deep water is tricky/awkward for me.

  3. mike585 says:

    Good post, Galen, and nice images.

  4. A great sequence of images :)

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