This beautiful plumage of the Common Loon is not how it dresses in Florida.
“Your client is crazy as a loon!” That was certainly not the diagnosis I was expecting from a highly regarded psychiatrist for a client I had sent to the doctor for a professional evaluation because Client’s wife had sought my help in obtaining an involuntary legal commitment to an appropriate psychiatric facility for his obvious mental health problems. Any of “delusional,” “schizophrenic,” or “early dementia,” I thought quite possible, but “crazy as a loon,” I did not expect. Perhaps my friendly doctor thought he had to express his diagnosis in terms that this dumb lawyer would understand.
Certainly, “crazy as a loon” is a common phrase in the English vernacular, but where does it come from? Research discloses two probable sources: 1, - it is a corruption of the word “lunatic,” which in the Elizabethan era was the term for anyone exhibiting any type of mental disorder; and 2, - it stems from the fact that the Common Loon “has a weird, haunting cry which presumably suggested to someone the howls of the insane.” And, in addition, they often let loose that weird, haunting cry in the middle of the night, which makes it even eerier.
Thus, it is no wonder that Hollywood, whenever it wants to create a scary mood, whether it is in an African jungle, in a center city setting, or the moors of Merry Olde England, will insert a Common Loon night-time wail. And do you remember Katherine Hepburn in “On Golden Pond” imitating a Common Loon call when she anticipated something bad about to happen? To hear the Common Loon “lunatic” wail, just go to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/common_loon/sounds and play the second “Pair Wail” sound presented there.
The Common Loon is another one of those birds that appears in Florida in the winter in its basic “shopping at the mall” plumage. In addition, it is more commonly found in salt or brackish water in Florida, whereas it breeds, nests and rears its young in fresh water in the northern most parts of the United States and Canada. When it changes into its breeding plumage, it is quite a striking bird with its black head, red eye, striped neck and mottled back and wings.
Jewel and I found the breeding plumage birds depicted here in Maine this past August. We did not arrive there early enough in the season to see and photograph the cute little loon chicks as they rode on the backs of their parents, but we did see a parent bird catch a good size bass and feed it to its half grown chick. With the size of the fish the chick is able to eat, it is no wonder they are able to grow so fast. Keep in mind that the chick eating the fish will be migrating south within a short couple of months.
While there is nothing crazy about a loon, I am happy to report that my “crazy as a loon” client did go into an appropriate care facility, where he received the help and medicine he needed, and he and his wife came to see me some six months later to report that he was a changed man (he had lost almost 70 pounds in the hospital) and that our efforts to get him the help he needed saved their marriage and improved their lives together immensely. And I still enjoy hearing a Common Loon call in some completely inappropriate setting in another dumb movie. (10/6/13)