“The Common Loon: 6 Things To Know” provides readers with a fascinating glimpse into the world of the iconic bird, Gavia immer. With its jet black face, stunning red eyes, and sharp beak, the common loon is easily recognizable and beloved by all who encounter it. However, there is much more to this majestic bird than meets the eye. The article explores various aspects of the common loon’s life, including its identification, habitat and range, diet, unique calls, predators, and intriguing fun facts. By delving into these six key areas, readers will gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for this enchanting species of bird that graces North American bodies of water.
The common loon, also known as Gavia immer, is easily recognizable with its jet black face, two red eyes, and large sharp beak. Most commonly seen as mature adults, these birds are entirely black and white. The head is jet black with a pronounced dagger-like beak. The breast is primarily white with thin black strips that become more bold as you pan to the sides. The back is a mosaic of black and white in a checkerboard pattern, and the tail is mostly jet black with small white dots. Immature individuals are a more drab brown color all over except for the breast and front side of the face. They have the same large dagger-like bill and red eyes. Loons have unique feet placement set far back, which helps them swim and dive underwater. Due to this foot placement, loons are unable to walk on land and mostly spend their time in the water. They only come to land to breed within a few feet of the shoreline.
Habitat and Range
The common loon can be found throughout North America, but their presence is concentrated in specific areas depending on the season. During the breeding season, loons are primarily found in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Canada, and Alaska. These birds occupy the same bodies of water within a 10-40 mile radius each season to reclaim their territory. They prefer lakes and ponds, and the males arrive first as the ice melts. Females return soon after to their northern territories. As the temperatures drop, loons migrate south towards the coast, eventually reaching the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Coast, or Pacific Coast. They remain off the coast until it is time to move back inland for the next breeding season.
Loons feed primarily on fish, especially after birth. In the first couple of weeks, the young loons may consume some vegetation and macroinvertebrates such as freshwater shrimp or crayfish. However, they prefer fish for their nutritional content. It takes around four weeks for the young loons to be able to fish on their own, but they often continue to be fed by their parents until as late as ten weeks, as it is easier. Loons are not picky eaters when it comes to fish; they eat whatever they are able to catch.
One of the most distinctive characteristics of loons is their calls, especially during their breeding territory. They have a variety of calls that they use to communicate with each other. The Tremolo Call, sometimes referred to as the Crazy Laugh, is the most familiar call. Loons often use this call when feeling threatened by other individuals or when communicating at night and in flight. Another common call is the Wail Call, used by mating pairs to communicate with each other over longer distances. The Hoot Call is another communicatory call for mating pairs and their young, but it is shorter and quieter, used for shorter-distance communication. Finally, the Yodel Call is a cry done only by males to show that they feel threatened by another loon or possible predator, such as an eagle. This call is the most shrill of the four but is less enjoyable to hear.
Common loons face predation from other birds, mammals, and fish. Larger birds such as eagles, ravens, and gulls try to uncover nests for the eggs and feed on the juveniles while they are learning to swim. Mammals like raccoons or skunks also take advantage of loon nests and feast on the large eggs. Even fish like pike and muskellunge attack loons from underwater. When loons are out in the ocean, they face predators such as sharks.
Loons are unique in that they can survive in both freshwater and saltwater environments. They have a gland in their nose that expels saltwater when they are off the coast. While commonly associated with lakes and ponds, loons actually spend about half of their lives in saltwater, including the first 3-4 years spent predominantly in the ocean. During migration, adult loons begin their journey south between mid-August and October, leaving the young behind to develop their flight feathers and improve their flying skills. The young loons may not make the trek south until as late as November, relying mostly on instincts to find their way.
Overall, the common loon is a beautiful and fascinating bird that plays a crucial role in its environment. From its distinct appearance and calls to its adaptability to different habitats, the common loon is truly an iconic figure across North American bodies of water.