Tags: bird, coastal, freshwater, migratory
The common loon is a large water bird that can be found on freshwater lakes of the northern U.S. and Canada.
What does a common loon look like?
Common loons are large, stunningly beautiful birds. The males and females look alike. They measure about 2 feet long. In the summer their plumage is black and white. They have small red eyes and a sharp, pointed bill. Their red eyes help them see underwater. Their feet are placed far back on their bodies which makes them efficient swimmers but very awkward on land. These large webbed feet paddle them through the water. In the winter, loons change to a gray-brown color before they migrate.
What do loons sound like?
A loon call sounds mournful and eerie to people, but to other loons it is a way of communicating. A loon call sounds similar to a wolf howl.
Where do common loons live?
Loons spend the summer in Alaska, Canada, and northern border states of the United States.
Loons fly south to the coast for the winter. This phenomenon is known as migration. Birds migrate during different times of the year to find food. The winters in northern climates are too cold for loons. They depend on fish to eat and since the lakes freeze over during the winter they must move south to find food. Loons fly south in late fall and return again in late spring. They can fly at speeds of 75 miles per hour! Loons have small wings and heavy bodies so they require a long water runway to take off (between 60 feet and 1/4 mile). They need the wind to help lift them up out of the water. It is quite a sight to see these attractive birds take off and land!
Common loons in western Canada and Alaska migrate to the Pacific Coast. Loons from the Great Lakes region migrate to the Gulf of Mexico or Florida coasts. Loons from eastern Canada migrate to the Atlantic Coast.
What do loons eat?
Loons mostly eat fish such as yellow perch, trout, and minnows. They will also eat mollusks, insects, frogs, and crayfish. Loons are great. Some loons have been known to stay underwater for as long as 3 minutes! Loons are terrific divers and their bodies have adapted to their aquatic lifestyle. Most birds have hollow bones to reduce weight to make flying easier. Loons have solid bones. This makes them denser than water, which making it easier to dive deep into the water.
When do loons breed?
Loons breed in the summer and both parents spend equal time sitting on the nest incubating the two brown eggs. Their nests are on a mound by the water’s edge. Both parents help raise the chicks and for the first three weeks the chicks spend most of their time riding on their parents’ back. They do this to avoid hungry predators like fish and turtles.
What problems do loons face?
In the last few decades, scientists have found that acid rain which falls into lakes can stop loons from being able to breed. The dangerous chemicals also poison the fish, crayfish, and mollusks that the loons feed on. When these animals die, the loons starve.
A mother loon, with chicks. Photo by Dave Freeman
A close up of a common loon’s red eye. Photo by Art Weber, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Image Source
A common loon swimming. Photo by Dave Freeman.