Common Loon (Gavia immer)

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).