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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Common Loon Gavia immer

The common loon is a striking bird best known for its haunting cry, which echoes across freshwater lakes during the summer breeding season. During the winter, the same bird is a common visitor in coastal waters, although at this time of year its black-and-white breeding plumage is replaced by less eye-catching shades of brownish black and gray. Like other divers, the common loon has a streamlined body, small wings, and webbed feet set far back—a feature that makes it clumsy on land. On water, it is far more graceful. It floats with its bill held at a characteristic upward slant and can dive to depths of over 250 ft (75 m) to catch fish—its principal food.

During the summer months, common loons usually live in pairs, carrying out spectacular courtship displays. When the breeding season comes to an end, they migrate to sheltered coasts, where there is less risk of icing. In North America, flocks of several hundred often gather on the Great Lakes, before heading south as far as the coast of Florida. In Europe, common loons winter on Atlantic coasts, dispersing as far south as Portugal.

Common Loonzoom image
  • Order Gaviiformes
  • Length 28–35 in (70–90 cm)
  • Weight 6–10 lb (3–4.5 kg)
  • Habitat Freshwater lakes (breeding); coasts
  • Distribution Northern North America, Greenland, Iceland, Europe, north Pacific, north Atlantic
Common Loon habitat mapzoom image