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Watchable Wildlife: Common Loon

Adult common loon swimming on a lake
Adult common loon spreading its wings
Common loon - Gavia immer
Photos by Barbara Nuffer

Did You Know?

  • Loons have solid bones, while most other birds have hollow bones. Solid bones allow the loon to dive underwater to depths of up to 150 feet in search of food.
  • After hatching, the chicks are carried on their parents' backs for the first few weeks.
  • Walking on land is difficult for loons because their legs are positioned so far back on the body; therefore, they make their nests very close to the water's edge. It is important to keep your distance on land or by boat from nesting loons or from loons with chicks. Read more tips on the Loon Protection Factsheet (PDF,110 KB).
  • In order to takeoff in flight they need a long water "runway" hundreds of feet in length.
  • Loons usually return to the same breeding ground year after year and commonly have the same partner for life.
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What to Watch for:

Size:

28-36 inches in length, 49-58 inch wingspan, and weigh 8-10 pounds. Males are typically larger than females.

Appearance:

In summer, adults have a black-and-white checkered back, black head, a long pointed black bill, and bright red eyes.

In winter, their plumage (feathers) is mostly grayish-brown with white on the throat and belly portion. Their bill is grayish colored, and their eyes are brown.

Males and females are similar in color. Immature common loons are mostly grayish-brown in color.

Where to Watch:

Large, deep freshwater lakes with islands and bays surrounded by forests.

What to Listen for:

The call known as the wail is easily heard over long distances, sounding similar to a wolf's howl. Another call, the tremolo, sounds like a maniacal laugh.

When to Watch:

Adult and immature common loonsThe peak time to view common loons is during the summer breeding season, when their plumage is most vibrant. They can also be found wintering inshore along the coast of Long Island. They travel north from their wintering grounds in late March and April to their breeding grounds. They head south in the fall between October and November.

More Information about Common Loons:

The Best Places to See Common Loons:

Adirondack Park Preserve:

Wintering sites (the following three links leave DEC website):

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