Photo: Garth McElroy/Vireo

Common Loon

Gavia immer

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.
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
  • adult, breeding
  • adult, breeding
  • juvenile
  • adult, nonbreeding
  • breeding adult and chick
  • adult molting to nonbreeding  plumage
  • adult,  nonbreeding
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.

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

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

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.

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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.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
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.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Duck-like Birds Loons

Common Loon

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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