Arctic Loon (Gavia arctica)

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The Arctic Loon (Gavia arctica) is of medium size, between 56 – 71 centimeters in length, with the male and female being similar in plumage. The males are just slightly larger than the females. The Arctic Loon has gray coloring on its head and nape, and its back is black with white spots. The neck is striped in black and white with white flanks and it is often difficult to see, but there is either green or purple plumaged on the throat. Its bill is straight, almost dagger-like, and it has black eyes.

Being a coastal bird, the Arctic Loon can be found near the ocean or open lakes and will often be seen around tundra lakes in the summer. It feeds on aquatic foods such as crustaceans, fish and mollusks and is known to eat certain amphibians. They are often seen diving into the water, from the surface, to catch small fish. They will also fly to bigger waters, to find food. The Arctic Loons are migratory birds, and will migrate to the coastal areas around western Alaska for breeding. Arctic Loons are very awkward on land, and take to flight only from the water.

During the breeding season, Arctic Loons will construct their nests on the ground, and use soil and plants as building material. The female can lay up to three eggs, that vary between an olive green to brown color, and have black spots. Both parents assist in the incubation period of the eggs, which is approximately 28 to 30 days.

The Loon species has been divided into two categories, namely the Artic Loon and the Pacific Loon. Both are very similar in plumage, and were therefore considered to be the same specie for many years. The difference can be seen on their throats. Arctic Loons have a greenish plumage and the Arctic Loons that originate from Eurasia have a purple plumage, which is the similar purple color that can be seen on the Pacific Loons. It was also not unusual to see Pacific and Arctic Loons, working together off Japans’ coast, in order to secure food during the winter months. The fishermen used to call them heaven’s messengers, as they would locate the schools of fish, making life a lot easier for the fisherman. Due to the decline in the loon population, these amazing coastal birds no longer practice this survival skill. It is also believed that the change in fishing methods have also influenced this practice.

Common Loon (Gavia immer)

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The Common Loon (Gavia immer) is a bird belonging to the loon (diver) family that is widespread across the northern United States, Canada, Greenland and Alaska. There are even some smaller populations living in Iceland. Also known as the Great Northern Diver, the bird has a reclusive nature and tends to favour secluded lakes or estuaries. Common Loons are very territorial birds and you will usually find that only one family lives at any given body of water. Common Loons are exceptional swimmers, but they are somewhat awkward on land. Thus they nest as close to water as possible, eliminating the need to walk where possible. Nests are built in hollowed-out mounds of dirt and the female may lay 1-3 eggs in it. Both parents work together to built the nest, incubate the eggs and feed the hatchlings.

Despite its name, the Common Loon is quite striking in appearance. It has Red-eyes and distinctive black and white stripe-like and spotty markings on its neck and wings. Its head and part of its neck are black while its breast is white. After breeding season, the bird loses this striking appearance and becomes brown with a white neck. The Common Loon’s dagger-like beak is perfectly adapted for underwater diving and it can dive to depths of 90 ft. The adult Common Loon is 73-88 cm in length and has a 122-148 cm wingspan. Though graceful in flight, their take-off and landings are somewhat clumsy. During the winter months, the Common Loon is fairly quiet but during summer it becomes a noisy bird with quite an impressive range of sounds which many describe as ‘haunting wailing’, ‘yodelling’ or ‘laughter’. When combined, these sounds are known as a ‘tremolo’ call and they can be quite overwhelming.

The Common Loon lives mainly on fish, such as pike, perch, sunfish, trout and bass, which it catches underwater in lakes. When near the sea, the bird tends to live on rock cod, flounders, herring and sea trout. Unfortunately, large numbers of these birds disappeared from lakes in eastern North America because of acid rain and pollution. Their numbers also dwindled because of lead poisoning, industrial waste contamination and decreasing water levels. Today the bird is protected by the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA).

Loons Haunting Calls

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Visitors to northern-hemisphere lakes often hear loons (known as divers in Europe and Asia). Most of the 5 loon species make haunting, wailing calls that, once heard, are difficult to forget.

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