Common Loon - Photo Copyright Ward Cameron 2003 - Click to view a larger image Common Loon - Photo Copyright Ward Cameron 2003 - Click to view a larger image Common Loon - Photo Copyright Ward Cameron 2003 - Click to view a larger image Common Loon - Photo Copyright Ward Cameron 2003 - Click to view a larger image  
Click on an image (if available) to see a larger version

Mountain Nature Network has become THE place for learning about the birds of the Canadian Rockies.

Common Loon
Gavia immer

Diving Birds
Loon Family (Gaviidae)

Size: Length: 71-90 cm

Description: The haunting call of the loon is one of the most familiar sounds of the north country. Along with the song of the white-throated sparrow, it helps to define the sounds of the Canadian north. Both male and female are similar. They are a dark bird with a black head and neck. The neck has a distinctive spiral band around it. The back is black, with white patterning along the tips of the feathers. This gives it a banded appearance. The underside is white. In winter, they lose their distinctive colouration, appearing brown on the upper surfaces and light beneath. Loons have a heavy bone structure, allowing them to float lower in the water than ducks, helping in their identification.

Loons are clumsy on land, as their legs are placed too far back on their body to allow walking. They cannot take flight from the land, but require long stretches of water to take off.

Similar Species: None

Range: They are found throughout Canada and the northern United States. They are less common in the Rocky Mountains, but can be occasionally spotted feeding on mountain lakes in the Canadian and northern US Rockies. It can be seen further south during spring and fall migrations. They are very sensitive to disturbance, and with man's increasing fondness for cottages and motor boats, loons have been displaced from some of their traditional breeding areas. They tend to be found only on quiet, more remote ponds.

They usually head towards the coast for the winter, returning with the spring thaw.

Habitat: Loons spend almost their entire lives on the water, coming ashore only for nesting. They will be spotted swimming in lakes where their heavy body allows them to float very deep in the water.

Diet: They feed on fish, diving sometimes very deeply for their prey. In some areas where man made ponds have been stocked with fingerling trout, the loon soon arrives to take advantage of these mouth-size morsels. In Allen Bill Pond, a man-made lake in Alberta's Kananaskis Country, stumps had to be submerged to give the trout some cover. The loons were cleaning the fish out as fast as it could be stocked.

Along with fish, they will also feed upon small crustaceans, frogs, mollusks and even some plants.

Nesting: Loons prefer to be the only pair on a particular lake, unless the lake is very large. A mating pair will arrive soon after the ice melts and nesting will occur soon after. They nest near the shoreline, rarely straying more than a few feet from the water's edge. They build a small nest out of aquatic vegetation and take turns caring for the young. The eggs are brown with a few darker brown markings. The nest is abandoned almost immediately upon hatching, and the young loons ride upon their parents back until they are strong enough to swim on their own.

Search for recent Common Loon sightings

Hire an expert guide to help you locate Common Loon

Bird watching in the Canadian Rockies offers endless opportunities for seeing new species. Mountain Nature Network is your source for birding and bird biology.

All Material Ward Cameron 2005



Birds by Common Name:


Birds Listed by Latin Name: