The first time we saw the Common Loon, we were at lake in Maine. It was early morning and we were walking along the lake enjoying the fall colors when we heard its distinctive call. It was out there all alone in the middle of the lake. Nothing else was even around, not even a breath of wind. It was very eerie!
The Common Loon is dark above and light below so it blends in with the water and makes it harder for prey to see. It has a heavy sharp, pointed bill and a thick neck. It also has relatively small wings, a short tail, and short legs which are set far back on its body. Like a duck, it has webbed toes. During breeding season it is black with a white checkerboard back. It has a forest-green collar around its neck. After breeding, it is brownish-gray in color with a white throat and breast. It has partial white collar and white around the eyes. Both sexes have similar plumage. Juvenile birds are similar to the adults in their non-breeding colors.
Range & Habitat
The Common Loon can be found at saltwater beaches and coastal waters in the winter, but most of the year can be found on remote lakes. It migrates alone or in small groups as far south as the Gulf Coast.
The loon spends most of its time on lakes diving for fish and other aquatic life. It will also eat frogs and plant material. It jumps into the air to get momentum when diving and can dive up to 250 feet. It is fast underwater with its webbed feet and streamlined body, and uses its wings for steering. It swallows small fish under water but large fish are brought to the surface to eat. It has mostly solid rather than hollow bones which help it stay under water longer. It uses both of its feet at once to paddle rather than using first one leg and then the other as ducks do. It is almost incapable of walking because its legs are so far back on its body. It moves around on land by flopping, dragging and hopping.
When it flies, it must run about 20 yards along the water to be able to take off. However, once it takes off, it is a powerful flyer. The Common Loon is known for its loud distinctive call that can be heard for miles across the water in the evening or early in the morning.
Breeding & Nesting
The Common Loon breeds on fresh water lakes in Northern United States, Canada, Greenland and Iceland. This loon is monogamous and usually pairs for life. Pairs will stay together during the winter and if separated will reunite at their breeding lake. It has an elaborate courtship displays in flight and by synchronizing underwater. The pair shares nest building, by building a nest of piles of vegetation on the water or close to the water. They also share incubation and feeding of the young until they are able to fly. The young leave the nest shortly after hatching and are able to dive and swim in about 3 days. Both parents will continue to take care of their young. You might see young loons riding about on their parent’s backs. The young loons follow their parents in migration from the breeding lakes to the ocean.