Daily Almanac for Wednesday, February 15, 2023

On this date in 1995, a rare sighting of yellow-billed loon, Lake Powell, Utah. Yellow-billed loon (Gavia adamsii) in winter plumage. 2009 photo. By Tim – originally posted to Flickr as Yellow-billed Loon, CC BY 2.0, https commons.wikimedia.org


Loons (North American English) or divers (British / Irish English) are a group of aquatic birds found in much of North America and northern Eurasia. All living species of loons are members of the genus Gaviafamily Gaviidae and order Gaviiformes /ˈɡævi.ɪfɔːrmiːz/.


Loons, which are the size of large ducks or small geese, resemble these birds in shape when swimming. Like ducks and geese, but unlike coots (which are Rallidae) and grebes (Podicipedidae), the loon’s toes are connected by webbing. The loons may be confused with the cormorants (Phalacrocoracidae), but can be distinguished from them by their distinct call. Cormorants are not-too-distant relatives of loons, and like them are heavy-set birds whose bellies, unlike those of ducks and geese, are submerged when swimming. Loons in flight resemble plump geese with seagulls‘ wings that are relatively small in proportion to their bulky bodies. The bird points its head slightly upwards while swimming, but less so than cormorants. In flight, the head droops more than in similar aquatic birds.

Male and female loons have identical plumage, which is largely patterned black-and-white in summer, with grey on the head and neck in some species. All have a white belly. This resembles many sea-ducks (Merginae) – notably the smaller goldeneyes (Bucephala) – but is distinct from most cormorants, which rarely have white feathers, and if so, usually as large rounded patches rather than delicate patterns. All species of loons have a spear-shaped bill.

Males are larger on average, but relative size is only apparent when the male and female are together. In winter, plumage is dark grey above, with some indistinct lighter mottling on the wings, and a white chin, throat and underside. The specific species can then be distinguished by certain features, such as the size and colour of the head, neck, back and bill. But reliable identification of loons in winter is often difficult even for experts – particularly as the smaller immature birds look similar to winter-plumage adults, making size an unreliable means of identification.

Gaviiformes are among the few groups of birds in which the young moult into a second coat of down feathers after shedding the first one, rather than growing juvenile feathers with downy tips that wear off, as is typical in many birds. This trait is also found in tubenoses (Procellariiformes) and penguins (Sphenisciformes), both relatives of the loons.


Susan B. Anthony’s Birthday

The Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester, New York, was the home of this women’s rights leader during the most politically active period of her life. It was here that she was arrested for voting in 1872, before women had the right to vote. Today the house is a National Historic Landmark and museum. Anthony, born in 1820, is best known as an advocate for woman suffrage, but she began her career as an outspoken proponent of temperance. She was not allowed to speak publicly, however, because she was a woman. In response to this outrage, she teamed up with Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1852 and dedicated her life to winning voting rights for women. She died in 1906 without realizing her dream. (Women didn’t get the right to vote nationally until 1920, with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution.) Connect with the Ken Burns/PBS documentary Not for Ourselves Alone, which examines Anthony’s and Stanton’s roles in the early women’s movement. The Web site also features their original writings and speeches.

National Flag of Canada Day

This marks the day in 1965 when Canada’s red and white maple leaf flag was first raised over Parliament Hill and in communities across Canada. On this day in 1965, the current Canadian flag was first raised over Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario. Red and white were designated as Canada’s official colors in 1921 by His Majesty King George V. Its design had been hotly debated, but eventually the government chose an idea by historian George Stanley: a red flag with a white square in its center containing a red maple leaf. In 1996, National Flag of Canada Day was designated to take place every February 15 to honor the official unfurling of the new flag.

Question of the Day

Is there such a thing as a bacterium that eats stone?

Yes, a genus called Thiobacillus is responsible, and one microbe in that family has the ability to convert sulfur dioxide gas (found in the air) into sulfuric acid. The microbe then uses the acid to transform marble into calcium sulfate, better known as plaster. It can attack marble statues, tombs, monuments, and historic buildings, to name just a few objects. In recent years, public concern has arisen because historical monuments have shown a marked increase in such destruction. Automotive and industrial emissions put free sulfur dioxide gas into the atmosphere, and these bacteria take advantage of it.

Advice of the Day

For better tone, allow good airflow between your piano and the wall.

Home Hint of the Day

To revive cookies that have become hard and dry, place them in a closed tin with a piece of fresh bread.

Word of the Day

Cirrocumulus cloud

Thin cloud that appears as small “cotton patches.”

Puzzle of the Day

What is the difference between a locomotive and a hound?

One runs on the track, and the other tracks on the run.


  • Galileo Galilei (astronomer) – 1564
  • Henry E. Steinway (piano manufacturer) – 1797
  • John Sutter (pioneer) – 1803
  • Susan B. Anthony (American social reformer ) – 1820
  • Melissa Manchester (singer) – 1951
  • Jane Seymour (actress) – 1951
  • Matt Groening (cartoonist; creator of The Simpsons) – 1954
  • Chris Farley (actor) – 1964


  • Nat King Cole (singer) – 1965
  • Ethel Merman (singer & actress) – 1984
  • Howard K. Smith (newscaster) – 2002
  • Jan Miner (actress who gained fame as Madge, the manicurist in Palmolive television ads) – 2004
  • Raquel Welch (actress) – 2023


  • First mustard manufactured in U.S. advertised in Philadelphia, PA– 1768
  • Canada officially adopted a new flag; the Red Maple Leaf became the new symbol, replacing the Union Jack– 1965
  • Ocean Ranger offshore drilling rig sank in storm off Newfoundland– 1982
  • Rare sighting of yellow-billed loon, Lake Powell, Utah– 1995
  • Kyoto Protocol global climate treaty took effect– 2005


  • Parshal, North Dakota, had a low temperature of-60 degrees F– 1936
  • Thirty-nine inches of snow fell on Callicoon, New York– 1958

COURTESY www.almanac.com