Bird Paintings & Illustrations by Jackie Besteman
The Loon is a truly Canadian Bird!
.Common Loons are large diving birds with long bodies (66-91 cm long, 2.2-7.6 kg, wingspan 104-131 cm) that sit low in the water. They have red eyes and straight, thick, “daggerlike” bills.
Did you know that you may not recognize the common Loon in winter compared to summer?
Whereas the underparts are always white, the plumage and bill are different colours depending on the breeding season. In summer, i.e. breeding season, the Loon has a glossy black head with a black bill, thick black neck with white-striped collar, and the back plumage is black and white in a checkerboard pattern. However in the winter, i.e. the non-breeding season, the head and bill are grey, the neck is white, and the back plumage is grey with a scalloped pattern.
During the winter, common Loons can be distinguished from other Loons by the indentation of the white neck color at mid-neck. Common Loons are also larger than most Loon species, excluding Yellow-billed Loons.
How do you distinguish the male Common Loon from the female?
Male and female Common Loons look alike. You can only distinguish them when they are close together because the male is larger than the female.
Young Common Loons look similar to winter adults, but have more white on their head and back. This juvenile plumage is maintained through their first summer.
Where can you find the Common Loon?
Found in every province and territory in the country, the Common Loon is truly a Canadian animal. It spends the winter months along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of North America, from Alaska and Newfoundland in the north to Mexico in the south, as well as in Europe and Iceland.
During the spring and summer months, the Loon prefers to nest on lakes with clear water, making it easier to find prey. It is especially drawn to lakes with rocky shorelines and deep bays and inlets. The lakes have to be long enough to allow for the running takeoff required by these heavy birds.
A migratory bird, the Common Loon travels its fall route between September and December and returns in spring between March and June.
What do Common Loons eat?
Common Loons feed on fish, frogs, crayfish, mussels, leeches and aquatic insects. Small prey is swallowed underwater but larger ones are brought to the surface and eaten there.
How long do Loons live?
The Common Loon may live twenty years or more.
Why do chicks ride on their parents backs?
With their young on their backs, the adult loon can provide better protection from predators both above and beneath the water’s surface. It is also a
opportunity for the young to conserve energy and body heat.
During the first week after hatching a chick may spend more than half its time on adults. After a week there is a sharp drop in back-riding.
Why are the Common Loon’s eyes red?
The red is caused by a pigment in the retina that filters light when loons dive beneath the water’s surface and allows for sight.
How many types of loon species are there?
There are five recognized species of loons (family Gaviidae):
• Arctic Loon
• Common Loon
• Pacific Loon
• Red-throated Loon
• Yellow-billed Loon
With the exception of the Arctic Loon, all these loons breed in Canada.