Common Loon

Gavia immer
Common Loon specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A large (28-36 inches) loon, the Common Loon in summer is most easily identified by its black head and bill, black-and-white “crosshatched” back, and conspicuous white breast patch visible immediately above the waterline. Winter Common Loons are dark above and pale on the breast, throat, and head, appearing slightly darker than the related Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata). Male and female Common Loons are similar to one another in all seasons. The Common Loon inhabits parts of Eurasia (where it is known as the Great Northern Diver) and North America. In the New World, this species breeds across Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and the northern tier of the United States. Red-throated Loons breeding in North America spend the winter along the Pacific coast from southern Alaska south to central Mexico, along the Atlantic Coast from Nova Scotia to Florida, along the Gulf coast from Florida to eastern Mexico, and at a few locations in the interior southeast. In the Old World, this species breeds in Iceland, wintering along the coasts of Northern Europe. In summer, Common Loons breed in large lakes either on the tundra or in evergreen forests. During the winter, Common Loons are found along the coast in near-shore waters and on large bays and reservoirs. On migration, this species may be found on large bodies of freshwater in the interior. Common Loons primarily eat small fish, which they catch by diving. In appropriate habitats in summer, Common Loons may be seen nesting on small islands in lakes or directly on the lake shore. At this time of the year, birdwatchers may hear this species’ haunting “yodeling” calls on calm nights. During the winter, Common Loons are most easily observed out at sea through binoculars or spotting scopes, and may be seen floating low in the water, diving below the surface in pursuit of prey, or flying awkwardly close to the tops of the waves. This species is primarily active during the day, but calls at night during the breeding season.

DC Information

Common transient and wintering species found on bays, estuaries, ponds, and reservoirs. Arrives in early September, leaves by late May. Winter plumage is brown above, summer plumage is speckled black and white above. Sexes are similar.

Specimen Information

The bird on the left is in winter plumage, while the bird on the right is in breeding plumage.  Although one is a male and the other a female in the exhibit, there is no sexual dimorphism - males and females look the same regardless of season. 
The bird in winter plumage is a juvenile female.
Date: 4/28/1883
Collected By: Frank R Towns
Locality:  Washington, DC
Sex: Female juvenile
Catalog ID: 91628
On the right is an adult male in breeding plumage.
Date: 6/14/1888
Collected By: Vinal U Edwards
Locality:  Woods Hole, MA
Sex: Male
Catalog ID: 113617

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species