COMMON LOON – (Gavia immer)
DESCRIPTION: The Common Loon is a diving bird. In breeding adults, thehead is black and has a narrow white neckband with black vertical stripes. The under parts are white. The back and wings are black mottled with white. The bill is long, sharp and dark grey. The eyes are red. The feet are webbed and black . In non-breeding plumage the top parts are dark grey-black with no markings, the bill and feet are light grey and the eyes are brown.Juveniles are mottled grey on top. This bird is rather large, at a length of about 90 cm (35 inches).
VOICE: https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Gavia-immer – The loon call has been described as ‘demented’ (origin of the ‘crazy as a loon’ idiom and the adjective ‘loony’, which means ‘crazy’ or ‘lunatic’), or a ‘lament’ (‘loon’ might be derived from Old Norse ‘lómr’ which means ‘lament’).
This bird’s various calls are very well known and an intrinsic part of the Canadian wilderness. They are heard mainly in the morning and late at night. Their calls will sometimes mix with the howling of wolves in the distance and/or the slapping of beaver tails on the water nearby.
NAME: The English name ‘Loon’ comes from Shetland ‘loom’ and refers to the bird’s poor ability to walk on the ground. The Latin genus name ‘Gavia’ means ‘gull’, and it is not clear why that name was attributed to the loon (Choate), since gulls and loons are not even part of the same order. The Latin word ‘immer’ derives from ‘immersion’ (in water). Outside North America this loon is called the ‘Great Northern Diver’.
HABITAT: Boreal forest and tundra lakes in the summer, along coastal shores in the winter.
DIET: Mainly fish, also crustaceans, molluscs, reptiles (frogs).
NESTING: The nest is a mound of vegetation placed on an island or near water. Usually two green eggs are laid, incubated by both parents. Chicks are fed and cared for by both parents. They will also carry them on their backs when young.
DISTRIBUTION: The breeding range includes Canada, also Alaska and coastal Greenland. This loon winters along the coasts of Canada and USA, and also of Europe.
ON PEI: This species breeds on Prince Edward Island, and is common.
CONSERVATION: The population of this species appears stable and is not currently considered at risk.
NOTES: Loons are excellent divers and can swim long distances under water. However they have difficulty walking on the ground, due to their legs positioned at the back of the body. Common loons also need a long ‘takeoff runway’ of water to become airborne. This will restrict their habitat to large enough bodies of water allowing them to do so, otherwise they may get stranded. Since they hunt by sight they need clear water, therefore their presence is a positive sign for the water quality.
The common loon is the provincial bird of Ontario and the state bird of Minnesota.
The common loon was chosen for the metal coin replacement of the one-dollar Canadian paper bill back in 1987. The coin is widely known as the ‘loonie’ (not to be confounded with ‘loony’).
National Bird Project: The common loon was the FIRST contender (by far) for the National Bird of Canada project. Unfortunately the project went nowhere because it was not sanctioned by the Canadian government.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Red-throated Loon
REFERENCES: http://www.npolar.no/en/species/great-northern-diver.html (Norwegian Polar Institute)
https://www.mba-aom.ca/jsp/toc.jsp (Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas)
http://www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/birds/loon.html (Hinterland Who’s Who)
Ducks Unlimited Canada (Common Loon)
https://www.ealt.ca/species-spotlight-list/common-loon (Edmonton and Area Land Trust)
COMMON LOON – (Gavia immer)