Garth McElroy/Vireo

Common Loon

Gavia immer

Conservation status Has disappeared from some former nesting areas owing to human disturbance on lakes in summer; acid rain may also reduce food supplies in breeding range. Has been protected on some breeding grounds in the northeast by volunteer "Loon Rangers" who patrol the lakes and help to educate the public about conservation. Projected to lose much of its breeding range as a result of climate change.
Family Loons
Habitat Wooded lakes, tundra ponds, coastal waters. In summer mainly on lakes in coniferous forest zone, also beyond treeline onto open tundra. Chooses large lakes with ample room for takeoff and with good supply of small fish. In winter mainly on ocean, usually fairly shallow waters close to shore; also on large lakes and reservoirs that remain ice-free.
A long-bodied, low-slung diver. Many people consider the loon a symbol of wilderness; its rich yodeling and moaning calls, heard by day or night, are characteristic sounds of early summer in the north woods. In winter, silent and more subtly marked, Common Loons inhabit coastal waters and large southern lakes. In such places they are solitary while feeding, but may gather in loose flocks at night.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

Forages by diving and swimming underwater, propelled mainly by feet. Before diving, may swim on surface with head forward and partly submerged to peer underwater. Small fish swallowed underwater, larger items brought to surface and eaten there.


Eggs

2, rarely just 1. Olive, spotted with brown or black. Incubation by both sexes (female may do more), 24-31 days. Young: Leave nest within 1 or 2 days after hatching, can dive and swim underwater at 2-3 days. Young are tended and fed by both parents; when small, sometimes ride on parents' backs. Capable of flight at about 10-11 weeks after hatching. One brood per year.


Young

Leave nest within 1 or 2 days after hatching, can dive and swim underwater at 2-3 days. Young are tended and fed by both parents; when small, sometimes ride on parents' backs. Capable of flight at about 10-11 weeks after hatching. One brood per year.

Diet

Mostly small fish. Includes fish up to about 10" long such as minnows, suckers, perch, gizzard shad, rock cod, killifish, many others. Also crustaceans, mollusks, aquatic insects, leeches, frogs. Sometimes aquatic plants such as pondweeds and algae.


Nesting

Apparently first breeds at age of 2 years. Nesting territory claimed by "yodeling" song, also by flying in circles over territory with loud calls. In courtship displays, pairs dip bills in water repeatedly; rear up to vertical posture with wings partly spread; race side by side across surface of water. Nest: Built by both sexes. Site always very near water, on island or shore, partly hidden by surrounding vegetation. Nest, often re-used from year to year, is a mound of grasses, twigs, reeds.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

In coastal areas, migrates singly or in small flocks just offshore, often low over water; usually flies higher when migrating over land. Large numbers may pause in migration on Great Lakes and other inland waters.

Help this bird. Donate today
Migration

In coastal areas, migrates singly or in small flocks just offshore, often low over water; usually flies higher when migrating over land. Large numbers may pause in migration on Great Lakes and other inland waters.

Songs and Calls
Best-known call a loud, wailing laugh, also a mournful yodeled oo-AH-ho with middle note higher, and a loud ringing kee-a-ree, kee-a-ree with middle note lower. Often calls at night and sometimes on migration.