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Common Loon Notecard



Common Loon (Gavia immer)

The common loon is best known for its haunting calls loud yodels, mournful wails, and wild, maniacal chuckles which fill the air over its breeding lake with a sense of wilderness. Native Americans respected the loon as the spirit of Northern Waters’ Loons breed on forest lakes and slow-moving rivers across the northern U.S. and Canada, preferring to nest on lakes with many islands that have a minimal chance of disturbance. These birds don’t tolerate crowding, and even moderate sized lakes support but one pair. During winter loons are found on salt water along the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Loons are very awkward on land, because their feet are positioned far back on their bodies. In water however, these large feet are strong and powerful, and can swiftly propel the bird to great depths. The Great Northern Diver has been caught in nets at 240 feet deep! When taking off from the water’s surface the bird needs a long running start, but once airborne it is a swift, powerful flier. Loons cannot take off from land.

Although fish constitute their principal food, loons can subsist on a diet of crayfish, amphibians, insects, shellfish and vegetation. Loons feed mainly on fish of minor economic importance, and during most of the year individual loons are so scattered that their impact on fish populations is insignificant.

Loons have few natural enemies, but their populations are threatened in other ways, mainly by humans. The tremendous amount of lakefront development in formerly wild areas has decreased the nesting sites available to loons. Manipulation of water levels may either flood or strand loon nests. Direct disturbance by humans may induce adults to abandon their nests. Pollution and acid rain pose ever-increasing threats. Many northern lakes have become acidified to the point where they no longer support any living organisms. After establishing nests on such lakes, adults are unable to feed their chicks successfully. Contamination of wintering grounds by waste oil and other pollutants has also reduced loon populations. It is up to us to help loons, the most ancient of all living birds, by leaving them unspoiled places to live.

artwork and text by Steve Sierigk (c) 1998