Common Loon (Gavia Immer)

The Common Loon (Gavia Immer), known for its stunning appearance and haunting calls, is a species of bird that captures the attention of nature enthusiasts worldwide. This majestic bird is characterized by its striking black and white plumage, blood-red eyes, and its ability to effortlessly glide through the water. With its unique call echoing across lakes, the Common Loon has become an iconic symbol of North American wilderness. In this article, we will explore the fascinating behavior, habitat, and conservation efforts pertaining to this remarkable bird.

Taxonomy and Classification


The Common Loon belongs to the order Gaviiformes. This order is comprised of a single family, Gaviidae, which includes only the loons.


As mentioned, the Common Loon is part of the family Gaviidae. This family consists of five species of loons, including the Common Loon. Loons are known for their unique physical characteristics and behaviors.


The Common Loon falls under the genus Gavia. This genus includes all five species of loons, each with their own distinct features and habitats.


The Common Loon is classified as Gavia immer. It is the most widespread and well-known species of loon, found primarily in North America. The specific epithet, immer, is derived from the old Norse word “himbrimi” meaning “wild bird” or “loose bird.”

Physical Characteristics


The Common Loon is a large bird, measuring about 63 to 89 centimeters in length and weighing between 2.5 to 6 kilograms. These dimensions make it one of the largest diving birds in North America.


The adult Common Loon has a striking black and white plumage pattern. Its head and neck are glossy black, while the rest of its body is mostly white. During the breeding season, its throat and upper neck also feature a distinctive checkerboard pattern of black and white stripes.

Bill and Feet

The bill of the Common Loon is long and pointed, measuring around 6 to 8 centimeters in length. It is black in color and has a serrated edge, which helps with gripping slippery fish. The loon’s feet are located towards the back of its body, making it an excellent swimmer but hindering its ability to walk efficiently on land.

Eyes and Ears

The Common Loon has red eyes, which are large and positioned far back on its head to enhance its underwater vision. Its eyes are ideally adapted for spotting prey in the water. Additionally, loons possess excellent hearing capabilities, allowing them to locate and communicate with other members of their species.

Common Loon (Gavia Immer)

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The Common Loon is native to North America and has a vast range that extends from the Arctic tundra to the coastal regions of the United States. During the summer breeding season, they are commonly found in lakes and ponds in the northern parts of the continent.

Breeding Grounds

Common Loons select freshwater lakes and bodies of water for their breeding grounds. They prefer clear, deep waters surrounded by wooded areas to provide protection and nesting sites. These lakes offer a rich source of fish, which is a vital food resource for loons and their young.

Wintering Areas

During the winter, Common Loons migrate to coastal regions, particularly along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America. They venture as far south as the Gulf of Mexico and southern California, where they can rely on a more abundant supply of prey.

Migration Patterns

The Common Loon is a long-distance migrant, undertaking impressive journeys between its breeding and wintering areas. The timing and routes of their migration vary, but they generally travel in large flocks along well-established flyways. These migratory patterns ensure access to suitable habitats throughout the year.



Common Loons are renowned for their haunting and distinctive calls. They have a wide range of vocalizations, including wails, yodels, and tremolos. These calls serve various purposes, such as territorial defense, communication with their mate, or locating other members of the flock.

Courtship and Mating

In the breeding season, Common Loons engage in elaborate courtship displays. They perform a series of synchronized head movements, dives, and various calls to attract a mate. Once paired, loons form lifelong bonds, returning to the same breeding territories year after year.


The primary diet of the Common Loon consists of fish, particularly species such as perch, sunfish, and trout. They are skilled underwater predators, utilizing their agile bodies and webbed feet to chase and catch fish. Loons can dive to impressive depths, staying submerged for up to several minutes in pursuit of their prey.


One of the most remarkable behaviors of the Common Loon is its ability to dive underwater. They can plummet to depths of over 60 meters, using their wings and feet to propel themselves underwater. Their dense bones and specialized oxygen storage system enable them to stay submerged for extended periods.


Although Common Loons are primarily adapted for swimming and diving, they are also capable of flight. However, their long bodies and heavy bones make taking off from land challenging. They require a lengthy runway on water to achieve liftoff. Once in flight, they demonstrate strong, direct wingbeats and can reach impressive speeds.

Common Loon (Gavia Immer)

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Primary Prey

Fish make up the majority of the Common Loon’s diet. They are skilled hunters and focus on catching small to medium-sized fish, which are abundant in their preferred habitats. Their diet consists of various species including perch, pike, bass, and trout.

Other Food Sources

While fish are the primary prey, Common Loons also consume a variety of other aquatic creatures. They may eat crustaceans, amphibians, insects, and sometimes even small birds or mammals. However, fish remains the most important and abundant food source for their survival.


Breeding Season

The breeding season for Common Loons typically occurs in late spring or early summer. They return to their nesting territories, which were established by the paired individuals in previous years. These territories are fiercely defended against intruders.

Nest Construction

Common Loons build their nests on the shores or islands of freshwater lakes. They construct floating platforms made of vegetation, mud, and other materials. The nests are strategically located near the water’s edge to allow easy access for the adults and their chicks.

Egg Laying

After courtship and nest construction, the female Common Loon lays one to three eggs. The eggs are usually olive-brown in color and have a mottled appearance, providing camouflage. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs, which hatch after an incubation period of around 26 to 32 days.


During the incubation period, the parents take turns sitting on the eggs, ensuring they remain warm and protected. While one parent incubates, the other may patrol the territory or engage in activities such as feeding or preening. This shared responsibility helps ensure successful hatching.

Chick Rearing

Once the eggs hatch, the parents care for the chicks, which are covered in black down feathers. The chicks are precocial, meaning they are capable of swimming and diving shortly after hatching. The parents guide them to shallow areas and provide food until they are fully independent, usually after a few months.

Common Loon (Gavia Immer)

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Predators and Threats

Natural Predators

Common Loon chicks and eggs are vulnerable to predation by various animals. Predators may include large fish, such as northern pike or bass, as well as aquatic birds like gulls or eagles. Additionally, mammalian predators, including raccoons or minks, may raid nests to feed on eggs or young chicks.

Human Threats

Human activities pose significant threats to Common Loons. Habitat loss due to shoreline development and pollution of lakes and waterways can have adverse effects on their breeding and foraging habitats. Collisions with boats or entanglement in fishing gear also pose risks to loons. Human disturbance near nesting sites can result in nest abandonment or chick mortality.

Conservation Status

Population Trends

The Common Loon population has experienced fluctuating trends over the years. However, overall, it is considered stable. The species’ adaptability and wide range have contributed to its survival. However, local populations in certain regions may face decline due to specific threats or habitat degradation.

Threats to Conservation

Although the Common Loon’s population remains relatively stable, there are several ongoing threats to their conservation. Habitat loss and degradation, pollution, and climate change can affect their breeding and feeding habitats. Human activities, such as boating and shoreline development, can lead to disturbance and habitat fragmentation.

Conservation Efforts

Conservation efforts focused on Common Loons primarily revolve around habitat protection and education. Many organizations, government agencies, and individuals work to preserve critical loon habitats, enforce regulations to minimize disturbances, and conduct research to better understand their needs. Additionally, public awareness campaigns help educate people about the importance of coexisting with loons and reducing human impacts on their habitats.

Common Loon (Gavia Immer)

Interesting Facts

Unusual Behaviors

Common Loons exhibit several unique behaviors that capture the interest of bird enthusiasts and researchers. One fascinating behavior is their ability to run on water, using their wings and feet to achieve a short burst of speed. Additionally, they can swallow small pebbles, which likely helps with digestion or buoyancy control.

Mythological Significance

The Common Loon holds cultural and mythological significance for various indigenous communities. In some Native American cultures, loons are revered as symbols of spiritual transformation, adaptability, and resourcefulness. Their haunting calls and distinctive appearance have inspired numerous legends and folktales.

Interaction with Humans

Human Perception

The Common Loon has captured the admiration and fascination of many people. Its striking appearance, unique behaviors, and haunting calls contribute to its appeal as a charismatic species. In the regions where loons are commonly found, they are regarded as iconic birds, often associated with pristine wilderness.

Human Impact

Human activities can have significant impacts on Common Loons. Encroachment on their habitats, pollution of waterways, and disturbance near breeding sites can disrupt their natural behaviors and breeding success. Conservation efforts aim to create a harmonious coexistence between humans and loons while minimizing negative impacts.

Economic Importance

In regions where loons are present, they can contribute to local economies through ecotourism and recreational activities. People travel to areas with loon populations to observe and enjoy their unique behaviors. By valuing and protecting loon habitats, these regions can benefit from the economic opportunities provided by nature tourism.

In conclusion, the Common Loon, classified as Gavia immer, is a magnificent bird with unique characteristics and behaviors. From its striking black and white plumage to its exceptional diving abilities, this species captivates the attention of both bird enthusiasts and researchers. While facing threats from habitat loss and human activities, conservation efforts strive to protect the common loon and its vital ecosystems. With continued efforts and public awareness, we can ensure that future generations have the opportunity to appreciate and cherish this remarkable species.

Common Loon (Gavia Immer)

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