Photo: Jari Peltomaki/Vireo

Arctic Loon

Gavia arctica

The Old World counterpart to our Pacific Loon, entering North America mainly as an uncommon summer resident in far western Alaska. The two are very similar, and until recently they were combined as one species under the name "Arctic Loon." The true Arctic Loon (of the form found in eastern Siberia and western Alaska) is larger than the Pacific Loon, but its habits are similar.
Family Loons
Habitat Lakes, ocean. In Alaskan breeding range found mainly on large lakes surrounded by open tundra. In winter on ocean, probably usually within a few miles of land.
The Old World counterpart to our Pacific Loon, entering North America mainly as an uncommon summer resident in far western Alaska. The two are very similar, and until recently they were combined as one species under the name "Arctic Loon." The true Arctic Loon (of the form found in eastern Siberia and western Alaska) is larger than the Pacific Loon, but its habits are similar.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, breeding
  • juvenile
  • adult, nonbreeding
Feeding Behavior

Loons do their foraging by diving from the surface and swimming underwater. They often swim along the surface with their heads partly submerged, peering about underwater, watching for prey before they dive. They are propelled mainly by their feet, but may sometimes use their wings also when turning or in bursts of speed. Loons find their food by sight.


Eggs

2, sometimes 1-3. Olive to brown, with blackish spots. Both sexes incubate (although female does more), 28-30 days. Young: Leave nest shortly after hatching, return to nest for sleeping during first few nights, then sleep on water under parents' wings. Both parents feed young. Adults may fly several miles from nesting territory to other waters to eat and to bring back food for young. Age at first flight probably 60-65 days. One brood per year.


Young

Leave nest shortly after hatching, return to nest for sleeping during first few nights, then sleep on water under parents' wings. Both parents feed young. Adults may fly several miles from nesting territory to other waters to eat and to bring back food for young. Age at first flight probably 60-65 days. One brood per year.

Diet

Mostly fish, but more varied in summer. In winter and on ocean eats mainly small fish, including gobies, sticklebacks, herrings, cod, and others. In breeding season, diet also includes crustaceans, mollusks, aquatic insects. Rarely eats frogs, leeches, small amounts of plant material.


Nesting

May mate for life. Courtship displays include ritualized bill-dipping and splash-diving by both members of pair. Nest: Site is in shallow water, or on island or shore near water. Nest is a heap of vegetation, sometimes mixed with mud; may rarely build floating nest. Both sexes help build nest.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Movements of Alaska birds poorly known; may winter in waters around Aleutians. Numbers are seen flying past St. Lawrence Island, Bering Sea, in late spring.

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Migration

Movements of Alaska birds poorly known; may winter in waters around Aleutians. Numbers are seen flying past St. Lawrence Island, Bering Sea, in late spring.

Songs and Calls
Similar to Pacific Loon, a harsh kok-kok-kok-kok. Adults on nesting ground issue an eerie, long-carrying moan or wail.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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