Common LoonGavia immer

adult, breeding
Garth McElroy/VIREO
adult, breeding
Warren Greene/VIREO
juvenile
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adult, nonbreeding
Greg Lasley/VIREO
breeding adult and chick
Scott Linstead/VIREO
adult molting to nonbreeding  plumage
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adult,  nonbreeding
Brian Sullivan/VIREO
Common Loon

Family

Description

28-36" (71-91 cm). A large, heavy-bodied loon with a thick, pointed, usually black or dark gray bill held horizontally. In breeding plumage, head and neck black with white bands on neck; back black with white spots. In winter, crown, hindneck, and upperparts dark grayish; throat and underparts white.

Voice

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.

Listen

1. yodels
2. wails
3. wails #2`UT
4. Tremolo calls
5. Tremolo duet
6. flight calling
7. hoots

Habitat

Nests on forested lakes and rivers; winters mainly on coastal bays and ocean.

Range

Breeds from Aleutian Islands, Alaska, and northern Canada south to California, Montana, and Massachusetts. Winters along Great Lakes, Gulf Coast, Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Also breeds in Greenland and Iceland.

Discussion

The naturalist John Muir, who knew the Common Loon during his early years in Wisconsin, described its call as "one of the wildest and most striking of all the wilderness sounds, a strange, sad, mournful, unearthly cry, half laughing, half wailing." Expert divers, loons have eyes that can focus both in air and under water and nearly solid bones that make them heavier than many other birds; they are able to concentrate oxygen in their leg muscles to sustain them during the strenuous paddling that can take them as far as 200 feet (60 meters) below the surface. Their principal food is fish, but they also eat shellfish, frogs, and aquatic insects. In recent decades, acid rain has sterilized many lakes where these birds formerly bred, and their numbers are declining. A leading cause of loon mortality is lead poisoning caused by the ingestion of lead fishing tackle.

Nesting

2 olive-brown or greenish, lightly spotted eggs in a bulky mass of vegetation near water's edge, usually on an island.

Similar Species

adult, breeding

Yellow-billed Loon

33-38" (84-97 cm). Breeding and winter similar to those of Common Loon, but bill ivory-yellow and seemingly upturned. In winter plumage, has more white on face; typically shows dark spot behind eyes.

adult, breeding

Arctic Loon

23-28" (58-73 cm). W. 43-51" (110-130 cm). Highly similar to Pacific Loon; until recently, the two were considered a single species.

adult, breeding

Pacific Loon

24" (61 cm). A small loon with straight, slender bill. In breeding plumage, head pale gray; neck and back black with white stripes; throat black with purple reflections.

adult, breeding

Red-throated Loon

24-27" (61-69 cm). A small loon seldom seen far from salt water. In breeding plumage, has gray head and neck, rusty throat, black back spotted with white.

Vireo

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