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Common Loon Information, Photos, Facts & Trivia

The loon gets its name from the clumsy way it walks on land. It is much more graceful on the water, because it is built like a torpedo, streamlined and slick.

The Common Loon (Gavia immer) sports a brilliant red eye in the summer together with patterned black and white plumage that intrigues onlookers. This bird has become a symbol of the lakes of the northern wilderness. American Expedition is proud to present information, interesting facts & trivia, and photos of the Common Loon.

Painting of a Common Loon

 

Common Loon Information

Common Loons, also known as Great Northern Loons, are large migratory water birds, weighing an average of 9 pounds and measuring up to 36 inches in length with a five foot long wingspan. A loon has a white belly and breast, a black neck with a white striped ring around it, a black head and bill and a white spot under its throat. Its back is black with white patches. During the winter, a loon is gray with the belly and underside of its neck colored white. Loons sport their famous red eyes in summer. The red coloration is thought to help it identify other loons from far away, and may even aid the bird in seeing underwater. In the winter, the eyes become dull in color.

Painting of a loon on the water.

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Unlike other North American waterfowl, loons have solid bones, making them less buoyant. Because of this they are extremely powerful swimmers. They are able to dive to depths of up to 200 feet, for durations of up to five minutes, in search of food. Loons are very adept fliers as well, reaching speeds of up to 80 miles per hour when they have strong tailwinds. However, because their legs are located towards the back part of their bodies, it is very difficult for them to walk or to take flight from land. In fact, it is often difficult for them to take off from water; the loon will usually need the help of wind. To take off, loons will need to use a runway - first they will figure out which way the wind is blowing, and then run straight into it while flapping. Once they have enough air rushing beneath their wings, they can become airborne. Once in the air, loons can cover hundreds of miles in one flight. Because of the loons need for a runway, they must be careful only to land in areas where there will be enough surface water for them to take off again.

Loons remain with the same partner for life, returning to mate each spring to the same lake. The male claims the nesting area and the pair build the nest together. They prefer to nest on small islands or bog mats near the water’s edge. There is usually only one pair of Loons found nesting on smaller lakes. Larger lakes may support more than one Loon pair. Loons will usually lay a clutch of two eggs between mid-May and June which will hatch after a period of 26-31 days. Upon hatching, loon chicks will almost immediately be moved to water and begin swimming. Loon parents will feed their children for about six weeks until their young learn to feed by themselves. After about 3 months, the chicks will be able to get food by themselves, making short dives for fish. The chicks will also have learned to fly. Juvenile loons will spend several years in wintering areas on the ocean before returning inland to breed. A loon’s lifespan is 20 to 30 years in the wild.

 

Common Loon Facts & Trivia

  • Loons only sport their famous red eyes during the summer. In winter, they have gray eyes.
  • Another name for the Common Loon is the Great Northern Loon.
  • One possible reason for the red eyes of the loon is that the color helps them to see underwater, filtering out blue and green light. It is also thought that the brilliant red color helps them to attract other loons. Since the summer coincides with their mating season, the former is a likely reason.
  • Loons find their prey by sight and prefer clear lakes where they can spot their prey through the water.
  • To help digest their food, loons will swallow small pebbles which will help grind up the hard parts of the food they eat, like the bones of fish and the exoskeletons of crustaceans.
  • Loons use their pointy bill to stab their and grasp their prey. They will often eat their prey headfirst for easier swallowing, and will swallow their prey whole.
  • Despite their large wingspan, loons have relatively small wings for their size. Their shorter wings mean that they have less resistance while diving, and they can make lightning fast turns in pursuit of fish and other prey.
  • The loons' smaller wings mean that they cannot soar or glide. To fly, they must beat their wings fast and steady.
  • Loons migrate at altitudes of 3000-5000 feet.
  • Male loons are in charge of choosing nesting territory, and will defend their territory aggressively from other loons.
  • Loons prefer to build their nests on areas completely surrounded by water, such as islands or emergent vegetation.
  • Loons will build their nests from aquatic vegetation, moss, mud, pine needles, leaves and other plant materials.
  • A mating pair of loons will build their nest together, and will take turns incubating their eggs jointly.
  • Loons are the provincial bird of Ontario and the state bird of Minnesota. They are also depicted on the Canadian one dollar coin, which is known as the "loonie."
Painting of a loon spreading its wings.

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  • Loons are more closely related to penguins than to any North American waterfowl.
  • Loons are known for the unusual sounds they make.
 

Common Loon Habitat

Loons are migratory birds that inhabit inland lakes with large amounts of undeveloped shoreline. Their home is in the northern and northeastern United States, in most of Canada, and as far east as Greenland and Iceland.

What Do Common Loons Eat?

The common loon is a carnivorous bird. Its diet consists almost entirely of fish, but they also eat crustaceans, amphibians, snails, salamanders, leaches, and frogs.

 

Common Loon Watching Tips

  • Listen for the distinct sounds that loons make.
  • A high yodel is the most common sound that you will hear. They also make a noise that sounds like laughter.
  • Know the distinguished traits of a loon; people often mistake double-crested cormorants for these.
  • Sit near a large, quiet body of water in the geographic range they are located.
  • Loons are timid so remember to not make any noise or movements. Never spook a loon. It is common for the loon to abandon her eggs if she is scared off the nest.
  • Keep a fair distance between you and the shore.
  • It is handy to carry along a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope.
  • Keep in mind that these birds migrate, so plan appropriately depending on where you will be observing.

In this video, a common loon can be seen defending its eggs.

A common loon riding around with a baby on its back.

Loons will take care of their chicks for about 3 months, feeding them exclusively for about 6 weeks until the chicks learn to feed themselves.

A close up of a loon with its red eye.

Loons sport their famous red eyes in summer. The red coloration is thought to help it to identify other loons from far away, and may even aid the bird in seeing underwater.

A common loon settling down into the water, flapping its wings.

Loons need to be extremely careful to land in lakes where they will have enough room to take off.

A common loon with a cute baby on its back.

Upon hatching, loon chicks will almost immediately be moved to water and begin swimming. They also spend time riding on their parents backs during their early life.

Common Loon Facts: A pair of Common Loons on the water.

It is thought that loons mate for life.

Common Loon Habitat: A common loon at its nest.

Loons build their nests close to the shore, and prefer to build nests in areas completely surrounded by water.

Common Loon Information: A common loon with its neck out of the water.

Loons are more closely related to penguins than to any North American waterfowl.

Common Loon Diet: A common loon with a fish.

Loons use their pointy bill to stab their and grasp their prey. They will often eat their prey headfirst for easier swallowing, and will swallow their prey whole.

A common loon with a bright red eye and ripples in the water.

It is thought that the brilliant red color of the loon's eyes in summer may help them to attract other loons.

A common loon taking off from a lake.

Loons are large birds, and to take off, they need to use a runway - first they will figure out which way the wind is blowing, and then run straight into it while flapping.

A common loon sitting on a nest.

A mating pair of loons will build their nest together, and will take turns incubating their eggs jointly.

Common Loon Facts, Information, and Photos
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