Common Loon

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Photo by: Jerry Mercier

Species: Common Loon

Scientific name:Gavia immer

Status: common, migratory

Description: The common loon is an icon in Ontario. They are large diving water birds with piercing red eyes, round heads and sharp pointed bills.  They have long bodies and short, usually not visible tails. Their heads and necks are black, while their bodies are black with white striping, spotting and checkering.

Habitat: Loons need large bodies of water, which allow for easy take off. They breed on quiet freshwater lakes, and prefer water bodies away from human habitation. Loons spend their summers breeding in the north part of North America, and they migrate in the winter to the Pacific and Atlantic coast of North America, as well as Europe and Iceland. In their winter range, loons are found near land, in bays and estuaries.

Breeding: Loons make nests, produced by both female and male, in quiet protected spots along the sides of lakes. Mating season runs from May to early June. As loons are very clumsy on land, their nests are located close to the banks of water, and often have a steep dropoff, allowing them easy access from underwater. Females will incubate 1-2 eggs for 25-30 days. Loons only produce 1 brood a year. The young leave the nest once hatched and are able to fly within 11 weeks of hatching. You often see young riding on their parents backs once hatched.

Diet: Loons are carnivores and expert anglers (fishermen). They eat a large number, and volume of fish, including perch, and sunfish. Loons dive, and swim under water to catch fish. They are majestic and have Olympic precision while hunting in the water. They use their bills as spears to catch fish. Loons hunt only during the day, as this is the easiest time for them to see prey.

Threats to species: Loon populations are stable and healthy. Their natural predators include large gulls, ravens, crows, raccoons and skunks. These birds are bio-indicators, and are found only in lakes with good water quality (they need clear lakes so they can see their prey underwater) and good fish populations. Water pollution is a threat to the loons, as they require such pristine lakes.  Other threats to the loons include lack of responsibility from fishermen, including: ingesting lead sinkers (lead poisoning), fishing line (wraps around their bodies and legs), and getting caught in fishing nets. Another threat is oil spills which can cause massive die-offs on wintering habitats.

Threat to humans: Loons are no threat to humans. They are usually seen as a typical indication of Northern Ontario and their eerie calls are beautiful and distinctive.

Fun facts:

Loons are like airplanes, they need a long, unobstructed, runway where they can run and flap before getting air to take off.

The loon’s feet are far back on their bodies, making them very bad at walking on land. If they become stuck on land, they will need rescuing as they cannot walk long (or even short) distances.

During migration, loons may mistake wet highways and parking lots for rivers and lakes and be stranded, they can also get stranded on small ponds.

Sources:

The Cornell lab of Ornithology: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Loon/id

National Geographic:  http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/common-loon/

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