Our state bird is more at home on central and northeastern Minnesota lakes than on land, because it has solid bones (unlike the hollow, light bones of most birds) and big floppy feet set far back on its torpedo-like body. Loons can dive as low as 250 feet and swim underwater for up to five minutes as they search for prey.

Even if you’ve never seen a loon in nature, you may have heard one in a movie. Hollywood Foley artists have used loon calls to evoke eerie or outdoorsy moods. Note that movie loons are often heard in habitats where they could not survive, such as jungles or deserts.

Common loons emit four calls. The three-part wail loved by Hollywood is a location indicator, akin to “I’m over here.” The shorter hoot is often used when parents and young communicate.

Two additional loon calls indicate stress: The “crazy laugh” tremolo is an aggressive call, and the drawn-out yodel is emitted by male loons when they are threatened, such as when guarding territory.

Minnesota loons are snowbirds, not unlike many human Minnesotans. They travel to various warm spots in winter, including North Carolina and Florida coasts and the Gulf of Mexico. Because of their solid bones and modest wingspans, loons require a considerable 100- to 600-foot stretch of water to take off. Once aloft, loons can fly 75 miles an hour.

Loons are emblematic of Minnesota’s natural resources. The lottery loon logo represents the lottery’s mission to give back our state’s natural environment.

For example, lottery proceeds through the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) have helped protect our loons through understanding the impact of the 2010 BP Oil Spill. A research project funded with the help of ENRTF grants from 2011 to 2017 enabled the DNR to assess the impact that the Oil Spill had on Minnesota’s loons and pelicans. The data collected was used in a lawsuit between BP Oil and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and led to a multi-million-dollar payout for loon conservation in Minnesota.

In addition, through a $4 million ENRTF grant, lottery dollars are helping to construct the National Loon Center in Cross Lake, a 15,000 square foot facility dedicated to loon survival, loon habitat protection, loon research and recreation. The educational and interactive Loon Center will help establish Minnesota as a premiere destination to experience the freshwater ecosystem humans share with native wildlife. It is scheduled to open to the public in 2024.

Each time you play the lottery you help protect Minnesota’s environment. You can also play your part by checking out this simple switch you can make to help protect our state bird.