Animals In Appalachia


Bird standing by creek

Photo courtesy of kariannlovessushi

A few months back Miss Cindy sent me an email and told me there was a strange bird in her yard. Once I read her description I emailed her back and said “Its a loon!”

Then I started thinking about loons.

I’ve seen them all my life around the creek that runs by our house. Usually I see them as I drive along the road in my car. The creek meanders through the huge beef farm that we live behind. Sometimes I notice them standing silently by the water other times the sound of my car causes them to take flight in their clumsy manner.

A quick look in my Appalachian dictionaries didn’t show anything about loons. That left me thinking maybe it was only my family that called the bird a loon. Then I remembered a man I used to work with in Haywood County NC.

I can still hear him saying “A big ole loon took off from the bank there above the river and about scared me to death.” So apparently the word is used in Haywood County too.

A quick google turned up this information, which leads me to believe the bird is actually a Great Blue Heron.

Have you ever heard the birds called loons?


canning jars full of food

Come cook with me!

Location: John C. Campbell Folk School – Brasstown, NC
Date: Sunday, August 23 – Saturday, August 29, 2020
Instructors: Carolyn Anderson, Tipper Pressley

Experience the traditional Appalachian method of cooking, putting up, and preserving the bounty from nature’s garden. Receive hands-on training to make and process a variety of jellies, jams, and pickles for winter eating. You’ll also learn the importance of dessert in Appalachian culture and discover how to easily make the fanciest of traditional cakes. Completing this week of cultural foods, a day of bread making will produce biscuits and cornbread. All levels welcome.

Along with all that goodness Carolyn and I have planned a couple of field trips to allow students to see how local folks produce food for their families. The Folk School offers scholarships you can go here to find out more about them. For the rest of the class details go here.

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  • Reply
    February 29, 2020 at 11:55 am

    We’ve got two or three varieties of heron in my neck of the woods, but Great Blue are the ones I see most often, and it’s always a treat. We have loons, as well, and I’m a little baffled as to how the two names could have gotten mixed together – they sure don’t look or act anything alike. Our loons are a very large, strikingly black and white, diving bird. I’ve been canoeing on a lake with loons, and when you see one floating along and then suddenly disappear, it’s fun to try to guess where it’s going to pop up again.
    Won’t be long – I hope – before I see herons nesting. Although with this darned ice that has been here all month, it’s a little hard to imagine Spring coming soon.

  • Reply
    February 28, 2020 at 8:55 pm

    The sounds that loons make are the reason that insane people are sometimes said to be “looney”. Imagine a hyena attempting to imitate a wolf howl, or a gaggle of geese overcome with hysteria and you’ve almost got it, especially if you imagine the geese to be in the initial stages of adolescence when their voices are making the transition to maturity.

  • Reply
    February 28, 2020 at 1:51 pm

    I’ve never heard them called loons, but they are majestic birds. If you ever see one fly, you’ll think you’re seeing a pteradactyl. There are birds called loons, but I’m not sure where they live.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    February 27, 2020 at 6:36 pm

    Have seen these birds on Deep Creek and the Old Tuck at Bryson City. Herons I think.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    February 27, 2020 at 2:58 pm

    Yep, that is a great blue heron. When I lived in Florida, one of them flew over my van and must have unloaded about a quart of fishy waste all over my van. If I didn’t know what they were before that event, I certainly knewcwhat they were afterward and, believe me, they are great fliers!

  • Reply
    Michael Miller
    February 27, 2020 at 2:30 pm

    I’ve never heard them called loons down here in the foothills of Dawson County, GA; however, I grew up hearing them called cranes. Like you, Tipper, as an adult I looked up the bird in the Audubon Guide that is now available as a free phone app. where I discovered they were indeed great blue herons.

    On rare occasions, I have also seen pure white egrets looking for fish while wading in Lake Lanier. In Florida, they are sometimes called the great white egret so as not to be confused with the smaller cattle egrets frequently seen in southern Georgia.

    Sadly, the influx of people and the destruction of habitat from the 19th Century to the present have forced many bird species out of the area or into extinction, the Carolina Parrot being just one example.

    I would recommend that readers check out the free Audubon Bird Guide in your favorite App Store. It includes photos of male and female examples as well as the various calls made by the birds. I have no connection to the Audubon Bird Guide except as a user. I just happened to find it in the Apple Store, downloaded it and have enjoyed it ever since.

  • Reply
    Sue McIntyre
    February 27, 2020 at 12:51 pm

    I am crazy about birds. Might say I am crazy as a Loon!!! We have White Cranes (Egrets??) and Blue Herons in North Eastern Ga. I have yet to meet a Loon here though. There is a peculiar sounding bird down at the pond. I have tried to identify it by its sound, unsuccessfully. I am usually too late to see it. Once, I got just a glimpse of it, but failed to make an ID. It had a shimmering plum/purple head, a stocky body, and a bright orange bill. It was standing on a fallen tree at the edge of the water. Beautiful bird, but very shy. Enjoy all the special jewels of nature and know they are gifts from God.

  • Reply
    Hank Skewis
    February 27, 2020 at 12:10 pm

    Guess my post didn’t come through. That’s a great blue heron. Loons are diving lake fowl that eat fish, I believe. Common on lakes here on the West coast. I’m curious about the origin of the word shitepolk. It’s used for heron in the old tune “Jimmy Crack corn.”

    • Reply
      aw griff
      February 27, 2020 at 4:25 pm

      Hank. I researched the word shitepoke and it is a poke (bag) of excrement. Considered a vulgar word coming from Scotland and Ireland. That doesn’t explain the German word shite being used in Scotland and Ireland. Shite in German does mean excrement.
      I’ve heard the word and used it all my life.

  • Reply
    Hank Skewis
    February 27, 2020 at 11:34 am

    We have loons on the West coast, they are lake dwellers who dive for food, which is fish I believe. The photo is of a Great Blue Heron; also called a shitepolk, though I don’t know where that term comes from. A verse of the old song “Jimmy Crack Corn” is:

    “Said the shitepolk to the crane
    When do you think we’ll get some rain?”

    “Said the shitepolk to the crane
    When do you think well get some rain?”

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    February 27, 2020 at 11:13 am

    We have a couple of herons where we live. They are beautiful. They fly down to the creek all the time.

  • Reply
    February 27, 2020 at 10:36 am

    Oops I just noticed Roger had left a link to actually see the bird and hear it. That is the call but it is more beautiful than that sounds when you factor in that the bird is way out in the lake and the sound drifts across the lake not like you are sitting right in front of it. I’m so glad he posted that link so you can see how beautiful the Loon is.

  • Reply
    February 27, 2020 at 10:29 am

    I agree with Jim C. I have never heard a Heron called a loon.

  • Reply
    February 27, 2020 at 10:26 am

    Before I read your post I was looking at the bird and said to myself that is a Crane or Blue Heron in that picture – where is the Loon. Then I read your post. I’ve seen your pictured bird Blue Heron in FL, MS, PA and I guess all down the coast from PA. , but never in my life did I ever hear it called a Loon. My husband loved Loons and we would see them a lot when we would go fishing up in Wisconsin. They are a water bird sitting out in the lake and diving down for fish and they can fly. They are beautiful and make the most beautiful sounding call out on the lake. You will never forget it if you ever hear it. I wish ya all would use google “call of the Loon” and hear it now. It is beautiful.

  • Reply
    February 27, 2020 at 9:48 am

    The Great Blue Heron is a solitary bird after the nesting season. You never see them in groups. They are very common on lakes and streams.I see them a lot when paddling all over the southeast. Never heard them called loons. There are some loons wintering on Lake Jocassee in upper SC. Only loons I’ve ever seen were in the Northeast. Also see quite a few egrets and an occasional Wood Stork.

  • Reply
    Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
    February 27, 2020 at 9:30 am

    Tipper, you might possibly get a loon down in your area on a rare occasion. It would be on Hiawassee or other big lake if you did, though. They have been seen on lakes in Georgia, but not very often.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 27, 2020 at 9:22 am

    I see birds like that all the time. I live near the Catawba River and see them wading in shallow water there. They fly overhead here at the house with their necks stretched out, their long wings flapping slowly and their long thin legs trailing behind. I’ve always called them cranes but I’m not much of a bird person.
    I thought loons were smaller and shaped like a duck. Loons are not typically wading birds. But there again I’m not a bird person.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    February 27, 2020 at 9:11 am

    When I was a boy growing up in E.KY. we rarely seen Blue herons or cranes but they were called storks. Back in the 1950’s I saw a large white bird fly up the holler we lived in and Mom called it a stork. It must have been a Whooping Crane. Some people at that time believed that storks stole babies.
    Blue Herons were not plentiful then but I often see them now. I don’t remember anyone calling them loons.

  • Reply
    Jane Bolden
    February 27, 2020 at 9:07 am

    There were loons in the movie On Golden Pond. There was a Blue Heron that hung out on a pond behind our house near Atlanta. I felt sorry because it was always alone. Later on I found out they are loners.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    February 27, 2020 at 8:10 am

    I’ve never heard them called a loon, but I once called a great blue heron a stork.

    In 2007, one of our boys decided to get married in an outdoor ceremony at a farm outside of Knoxville. While I’m not a fan of these sorts of things, I’ll admit that it was a nice venue, with Bull Run Creek a hundred yards or so south of where the ceremony took place.

    As the I do’s were wrapping up, a great blue heron flew down the creek back behind them; you couldn’t miss it. My wife, Susan, leaned over to me and asked “What is that?”

    I reckon it was the devil made me do it, but I answered “It’s a stork.”

    Just as soon as the ceremony was over and the freshly-minted bride and groom had walked up the aisle, Susan took off behind them to share with everyone that would listen what a great foreshadowing it was that a stork had flown by.

    Well, I had my laugh, but then that couple has brought her two grandchildren, so maybe the laugh is on me.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 27, 2020 at 7:57 am

    In southeast KY growing up we had no bird called a loon. My Dad call a kingfisher a ‘shitepoke’. The great blue heron was around but was at best uncommon. My first and only encounter with a loon was on a fishing trip to Canada in 1976. They have the most peculiar call. Closest I can come is that it sounds like a horse whickering, not neighing – whickering.

    • Reply
      aw griff
      February 27, 2020 at 8:50 am

      Ron. That is what we called them too in northeast KY. We pronounced it more like shikepoke.

  • Reply
    Roger Greene
    February 27, 2020 at 7:56 am

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    February 27, 2020 at 7:54 am

    We had a skiff of Snow this morning, when I went to bed last night, I thought we could have a good-un cause it was 35 then. This morning I turned on the TV and saw it was 29, just right to Snow. Jennifer Naramore, our Weather Girl, said it could Snow throughout the day. It’s snowing Now, but I don’t think it will do anything serious.

    When Hurricane Opel came thru our country in about ’95, folks said the wind picked up a bunch of them long-necked suckers and they just road it out till they could fly down to our country. I have seen them along Worm Creek, gobbling up crawfish and minnows. They’re the eatenest things I ever saw. A crawfish or minnow is dead by the time they travel down that long neck to their belly. I asked someone what they were and they told me they were Blue Herrings. …Ken

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    February 27, 2020 at 7:43 am

    Tipper–I don’t think you’ll find loons in your part of the world. At least I’ve never seen one. About the only thing they have in common with great blue herons, which is the bird shown in your photo, is an affinity for water and somewhat similar diets. Loons have webbed feet and aren’t very comfortable on land whereas GBHs spend much of their time on land along water edges patiently waiting for an opportunity to spear a fish. They can and do wreak havoc on stocked trout. I’ve never heard GBHs called loons although I have heard the term loon used to describe a fool. The call of a loon is a lonesome though beautiful sound whereas the sound of a GBE (I’ve only heard it when one is frightened) is probably best described as a harsh squawk. It will make a turkey gobble.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    February 27, 2020 at 7:38 am

    There are loons. It is just a different kind of water bird.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 27, 2020 at 7:24 am

    I saw another one yesterday, it was also beside a creek. I wonder do the swim, did they float sown the creek or do they fly. I’m thinking, for some reason, that they fly.
    They are certainly beautiful!

    • Reply
      Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
      February 27, 2020 at 9:27 am

      Great Blue Herons DO fly, Miss Cindy! They tuck those big ol’ legs up and pull that long neck in and git. They remind me so much of photos of pterodactyls when I see them flying. Sure can tell they came from dinosaurs.

  • Reply
    john t
    February 27, 2020 at 6:57 am

    That appears to be a heron. Up here in Minnesota we have Loons which are more duck sized and have a beautiful distinct call.

  • Reply
    February 27, 2020 at 6:32 am

    You have me wondering now why I never have seen a loon near the many creeks that run through southern West Virginia. I will do follow up late in day to see what some of the other folks say. We mostly see Mallards near a small lake every year, and I always enjoy so much seeing them with their little ducklings. I used to take grandson to school by way of a back road, and the drive was a treat with spotting the ducks and different wildlife.

  • Reply
    February 27, 2020 at 6:28 am

    I looked at that photo and thought, that’s not a loon, that’s a blue heron! I’ve never heard them called loons – but then I don’t remember ever seeing any until I moved to PA about 10 years ago. Growing up in Chattanooga, I guess I never lived near enough to water to see them. Now I see many around Ft. Loudon Lake near where I work. Also a lot below Norris Dam on the Clinch River. They are beautiful and I love their stillness — very peaceful.

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