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Common Loon

Gavia immer [gav' E uh im' mer]

Common Loon in breeding plumage


This large waterbird is 26 to 36 inches long, has a wingspan of 41 to 52 inches, and may weigh as much as 13 pounds. Both sexes have similar plumage, but the male is significantly larger than the female. During the breeding season, the head, neck, wings, and sides are black, the back has large white checkered markings, the chest is white, and the neck is marked by a white ring with vertical black bars. Outside of the breeding season, the loon has gray to gray-brown upperparts, white underparts and throat, a wedge of white extending from throat to back of the neck, and a white crescent around each eye.

Distribution and Habitat

Loons breed across Alaska and Canada, southward into the northern United States and the Yellowstone region, as well as in Greenland and Iceland; they are also occasionally seen in Scotland. They winter along both coasts of North America, and inland on large lakes from Alaska to southern Mexico and from Newfoundland to eastern Mexico; in Europe they winter from Iceland to the Mediterranean.

range of the Common Loon in North America

Loons breed on clear freshwater lakes with rocky shorelines surrounded by forest, as well as on subarctic tundra lakes. They stage for migration on large lakes and rivers, and spend their winters in coastal marine areas near shore or on large freshwater lakes.


The nest is a large mass of plant material, sometimes placed on top of a muskrat mound, usually located along the shore of a lake or on a floating island. A typical clutch consists of two to four brown eggs with dark splotches.


Common loons swim underwater to catch fish and aquatic invertebrates. They swallow most of their prey underwater.

Habits and Behaviors

Loons require a considerable amount of open water in order to gain enough speed to take flight. It is not uncommon for a loon to find itself stranded on a pond or other body of water that is too small.

Scientific Classification

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

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

This page was last updated on March 22, 2018.