The loon has been Minnesota’s state bird since 1961. They’re striking, with their pontoon-shaped bodies, black heads, white spots, and round red eyes. But even more iconic is their cry—a sort of fluttering whistle-wail that rises up at the end, like a question.
If you haven’t seen or heard a loon, your time may be running out. According to data compiled by National Audubon Society scientists, nearly 400 species of North American birds are facing threat of displacement or even extinction from climate change.
That includes New Hampshire’s beloved purple finch, New Jersey’s goldfinch, the California quail, and, yes, Minnesota’s loon.
If global temperatures rise a “plausible” 3 degrees above preindustrial levels in the next hundred years, our favorite aquatic bird will no longer find Minnesota summers favorable for hunting or breeding. They may “bypass the state altogether,” the New York Times says, and head north for cooler climes.
“The results are clear,” the study says. “Birds will be forced to relocate to find favorable homes. And they may not survive.”
Minnesota's trees—spruce, fir, birch, quaking aspen—are already under stress from heat waves and disease. Lynx are expected to abandon us for Canada. Resort towns are already complaining about a shortage of coveted sporting fish like walleye.
But there’s something deeply personal, and deeply frightening, about losing the loon. It’s like losing a bit of home.
“It’s hard to imagine a Minnesota summer without them,” Audubon President David Yarnold told the Times.
The group is quick to note that it’s possible to hold onto the loon. By “stabilizing carbon emissions” and keeping warming to a minimum, nearly 150 of these species would no longer be vulnerable to extinction.
But we have a long way to go if we’re going to make that happen. Three short years ago, all but one Republican member of the Minnesota House refused to acknowledge climate change was driven by burning fossil fuels.
In Kittson and Roseau—Minnesota's two counties warming up the fastest—only 60-some precent of residents believe climate change is happening at all. By the time we realize there aren’t as many loons around, it might be too late.