Common Loon


Common Loon (Gavia immer)

Common Loons are hard to miss on Canadian lakes - if you don't spot these large tuxedo waterbirds in the middle of the lake, you are sure to hear its yodeling calls.

Photo by Stephanie Weizenbach

Photo by Stephanie Weizenbach

Why they Matter to Us


Loons

  • are an iconic Canadian species, pictures on the $1 coin giving it's affectionate term ‘loonie’
  • wail call is one of the most identifiable bird calls heard around lakes - this wail sounds like a wolf's howl
  • symbolize wilderness and solitude
  • are an important top predator in lake ecosystems

How You Can Help

  • Donate to help EALT protect wetland habitat important for loons. 
  • Use steel fishing products instead of lead weights and hooks. Lead weights are easily lost and then consumed by fish and waterfowl. High levels of absorbed lead causes damage to vital organs and tissue. Fish and birds with lead poisoning become sick and easy prey. Lead poisoning works its way up the food chain and can be fatal to everything from fish, to loons, to bald eagles.
    • Leave no trace. Abandoned or littered fishing line and hooks can also cause injury and death to loons when they become entangled in it.
  • Give loons space when boating. Loons dive under water when approached by a boat, but commonly have young ones riding along on their backs. Loons and their chicks can be injured by boats and propellers.

How to Identify


Identify by Sight

Both male and female have a black head and bill and a black white checkered back and white ‘necklace’ around the throat. Common Loons are relatively large and swim low in the water, which helps distinguish them from other waterfowl.

Identify by Sound

Loons have 4 distinguished calls: tremolo, yodel, wail, and hoot. Each call has a distinct message. The tremolo is used when the loon is alarmed, or to announce its presence; the yodel is used by a male loon to announce and defend his territory; the wail is the 'marco polo' of the loon world; and hoots are used to keep in contact, such as between parents and chicks, or between mates.


Where to Find

Common loons are found throughout Canada, breeding on quiet, freshwater lakes 5–50 hectares in size. They inhabit lakes with an abundant supply of small fish. Loons are sensitive to human disturbance. Common loons migrate to warmer areas along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and can be found on lakes, rivers, estuaries and coastlines.

Family life by Stephanie Weizenbach

Family life by Stephanie Weizenbach

Common Loon display by Gerald Romanchuk

Common Loon display by Gerald Romanchuk

Social Life

  • Loons are monogamous and typically stay together for about 5 years. Loon mates return to the same lake separately and if one doesn’t return, the other loon will find another mate. The male loon uses his yodel to define his territory and notify other loons to stay out. 
  • Loons leave their chicks at about 12 weeks of age. The parents migrate, leaving the young to flock together to migrate a few weeks later. Juveniles overwinter on the coast, and stay there for 2 years. In year 3, they return north, but do not breed until they are about 6 years old.

Food Chain

  • Loons eat fish, frogs, crayfish and other aquatic animals.
  • Loons pack away a lot of fish! A loon family with 2 chicks can eat about a half-ton of fish over a 15-week period.
  • Loons spend almost all of their time in the water so do not have very many predators. Loon chicks are prey to large carnivorous fish, gulls, crows, and eagles.

Fun Facts

  • Loons can live up to 15 - 30 years!
  • Loons have solid bones, unlike other birds, which make them less bouyant and better divers. When diving, they quickly blow air out of their lungs and flatten their feathers, making them super fast and efficient underwater. While diving, the loon's heart even slows down to conserve oxygen!
  • Loons need a long runway to build up enough speed for lift-off.
  • Loons are fast in the air too, flying at speeds near 112 km/hr!