Photo: A common loon with chick

A baby common loon hitches a ride on its mother’s back. Hatchlings are able to fly about 11 weeks after hatching.

Photograph by Roy Toft

Map

Map: Loon range

Common Loon Range

Audio

Fast Facts

Type:
Bird
Diet:
Carnivore
Average life span in the wild:
30 years
Size:
2 to 3 ft (66 to 91 cm)
Weight:
6.5 to 12 lbs (3 to 5 kg)
Group name:
Flock
Did you know?
Loons can dive more than 200 ft (61 m) below the surface of the water in search of food.
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Loon compared with adult man

Named for their clumsy, awkward appearance when walking on land, common loons are migratory birds which breed in forested lakes and large ponds in northern North America and parts of Greenland and Iceland. They winter all along North America’s Pacific and Atlantic coasts as well as in Europe and Iceland.

Their unusual cries, which vary from wails to tremolos to yodels, are distinct to individuals and can be heard at great distances. Loon cries are most prevalent during breeding season as pairs aggressively defend their territories.

Loons have striking red eyes, black heads and necks, and white striping, checkering, and spotting on their backs. They grow up to three feet (91 centimeters) in length and weigh up to 12 pounds (5 kilograms), feeding largely on fish and invertebrates.

Their predators are diverse and can strike from all directions as they include birds like gulls, ravens, and crows, fish such as pike, and land mammals such as raccoons, weasels, and skunks.

They nest lakeside and incubate their eggs for 27 to 30 days. Hatchlings leave the nest on their first day and are able to fly in about 11 weeks.

There are many Native American legends about common loons. And to this day the Inuit legally hunt over 4,500 a year for subsistence. Loon populations are currently stable, but a number of threats loom, including human encroachment and pollution.

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