Editorial, Featured Articles
  • RSS FeedSubscribe to RSS feed
  • Email to a FriendEmail to a friend
  • PrintPrint article

Bird Species Spotlight: Common Loon

by Jake Jacoby | June 28, 2018

Common loons by Jake JacobyIn June 2018, I had the opportunity to visit Lac Le Jeune in the vicinity of Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada to observe and photograph common loons. I attended an excellent photography workshop hosted by NatureScapes.net. The lake itself is pristine, very beautiful, and lies at an elevation of 4,200 feet. We photographed from specially equipped pontoon boats twice a day, morning and afternoon, and then hiked on wooded trails to photograph other bird and mammal species during the middle of the day.

Common loon on nest © Jake Jacoby

Common loon on its nest © Jake Jacoby

The common loon is a migratory bird which breeds in fresh water in forested lakes and large ponds in northern North America and parts of Greenland and Iceland. They winter throughout North America’s Pacific and Atlantic coasts as well as in Europe and Iceland. The summer adults are regally patterned in black and white. In winter, they are plain gray above and white below. They are very different looking birds as even their eyes change color and they live primarily in salt water. You’ll find the winter birds close to shore on most seacoasts, with many on the east coast of Florida.

Common loon © Jake Jacoby

Common loon © Jake Jacoby

Common loons are powerful, agile, and stealthy divers submerging without a splash, and expertly catching small fish in fast underwater chases. They find their prey by sight, eating mainly fish, supplemented with amphibians, crustaceans and specifically have been observed to feed on crayfish, frogs, snails, salamanders and leeches. The common loon uses its pointy bill to stab or grasp prey, eating vertebrate prey headfirst to facilitate swallowing, and then swallowing their prey whole. To help digestion, common loons swallow small pebbles from the bottoms of lakes. Similar to grit eaten by chickens, these pebbles assist the loon’s gizzard in crushing the hard parts of the loon’s food such as the exoskeletons of crustaceans and the bones of frogs and salamanders. The pebbles may also be involved in stomach cleaning as an aid to regurgitation of indigestible food parts.

Common loon in the winter © Jake Jacoby

Common loon in the winter © Jake Jacoby

Common loons have very unusual cries, which vary from wails to yodels, and are distinct to individuals which can be heard at great distances. These cries are most prevalent during the breeding season as pairs aggressively defend their territories and call to each other.

Loon guarding the nest © Jake Jacoby

Loon guarding the nest © Jake Jacoby

Breeding common loons have striking red eyes, black heads and necks, and white striping. They grow up to 3 feet in length and weigh up to 12 pounds. They are approximately the size of a large duck or small goose and their toes are connected by webbing.

They are less suited to land, and typically come ashore only to nest. They do mate on land and build their nests close to the water. Both male and females build the nest and incubate their eggs for about 1 month, normally having clutches consisting of two eggs. Hatchlings leave the nest on their first day and are able to fly in about 11 weeks. They are precocial at birth, able to swim and dive right away, but will often ride on their parents’ back during the first two weeks to rest, conserve heat, and avoid predators.

Common loon with chicks © Jake Jacoby

Common loon with chicks © Jake Jacoby

Their predators are diverse and can strike from all directions as they include birds like gulls, ravens, and crows, fish such as pike, and land mammals such as raccoons, foxes, weasels, and skunks.

About the Author

To see more of Jake's work as well as his favorite photographs check out his Flickr page.

Post a Comment

Logged in as Anonymous