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Arctic Loon

Gavia arctica [gav' E uh ark' tik uh]

Arctic Loon


Although it is very similar to the Pacific Loon in appearance, the Arctic Loon can be distinguished from its close cousin by a white flank patch before the tail, visible at the waterline and in flight. The striped patch on the side of the neck in breeding plumage is also more conspicuous than the Pacific's (frequently visible at some distance and in flight), and the nape and hindneck are darker. The Siberian race of Arctic loon (G. a. viridugularis), which breeds in Alaska, typically has a green iridescent throat patch (visible only at close range), whereas the throat patches of the Pacific and of the European race of Arctic loon (G. a. arctica) are typically iridescent purple. The Arctic loon is also slightly larger than the Pacific loon -- 23-28 inches long, wingspan of 43-51 inches.

The juvenile Arctic loon has pale fringes to the feathers on the upperparts, giving it a scaled appearance, as well as a slightly browner plumage when compared with the adult.

Although it is a strong flier, the Arctic loon is almost incapable of walking on land due to the positioning of its legs. As a member of the family Gaviidae, this species is a skilled diver and is able to swim underwater; it can remain underwater for up to eight minutes and reach depths of up to 246 feet.

Distribution and Habitat

The circumpolar range of the Arctic loon stretches from Alaska in the east to Siberia in the west. During the winter months, the Arctic loon migrates south to the coasts of the northeast Atlantic and eastern and western Pacific, as far south as the Mediterranean, Black Sea, Caspian Sea, China, Japan and southern Alaska. It breeds on tundra and taiga lakes and marshy inlets, and spends the winter in coastal areas and open ocean.


Courtship rituals such as bill-dipping, splashing and diving are performed by both the male and female Arctic loon at the beginning of the breeding season. The nest is built by both sexes and is usually made of a heap of plant matter, sometimes mixed with mud, with floating nests occasionally being made. The 1-3 brownish eggs with scattered markings are incubated primarily by the female, with help from the male. The hatchlings are fed by both parents, and can fly at 60-65 days.


Arctic loons feed on fish, mollusks, crustaceans, and some amphibians and aquatic vegetation.

Habits and Behaviors

The Arctic loon's call is a harsh "kok-kok-kok-kok." Adults on nesting grounds issue an eerie, long-carrying moan or wail.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Aves
order Gaviiformes
family Gaviidae
genus & species Gavia arctica


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The Robinson Library >> Science >> Zoology >> Birds >> Order Gaviiformes

This page was last updated on March 22, 2018.