Learn About Loons
Sorry, your browser does not support java.
As you can tell from the map below, Wisconsin is one of the few states in The United States where the common loon breeds and spends its summer months.  The loon can also be found in the summer in Minnesota, Michigan and the northern New England states.  I have spent many hours sitting in a boat on a quiet northern Wisconsin lake watching the loons and listening to their calls.  I have seen a loon tangled in a careless angler's discarded line and helped free it before it was seriously injured or even drowned.  Loons are a precious part of our environment and should be protected for all humanity to enjoy.  I would like to give you some facts about:

The Common Loon

  • Loons are water birds--they only go ashore to mate and to incubate their eggs. 
  • Loons eat fish; sticklebacks, minnows, and small perch are among their favorites. 
  • Loons defend large territories on freshwater lakes during the late spring and summer breeding season. 
  • Male and female loons often return to the same territories year after year. 
  • Loon nests are built very close to the water, and often on small islands.
  • Loons usually lay 1 or 2 eggs each season. 
  • Loon chicks hatch about 28-30 days after the eggs are laid.
  • Loon parents are very protective of their young, and often shelter them in  "nursery" areas or allow very young chicks to ride on their backs.
  • Loon chicks fledge (become independent and able to fly) about 12 weeks after hatching. 
  • Loons--adults and juveniles--migrate from their freshwater homes to the seacoast, and live at sea during the fall and winter. 
  • Loons undergo a complete molt of their breeding plumage during the fall and are "dressed in drab" during the winter. 
  • Late in the winter, loons molt again; this time, they replace their drab winter plumage with the eye-catching black-and-white breeding plumage that most birdwatchers and loon-lovers have come to know. 
  • Loons may live more than 20 years. 
  • Loons are known to remain submerged for several minutes while pursuing prey. 
  • Loons are very vocal during the breeding season; many of their calls are associated with territory defense or chick-rearing. 
  • The Common Loon
    The Common Loon, Gavia immer , is probably the most familiar of all the loons. Its familiarity stems from the close proximity of Common Loon territories to human settlements, especially in the southernmost parts of its range. This is the loon that was featured in the movie "On Golden Pond" a few years ago.
    Common Loons breed across much of northern North America, from the edges of the tundra to the Upper Great Lakes, New England, and in small numbers in the Rocky Mountains as far south as Yellowstone National Park. During fall and spring migrations, Common Loons are often observed on inland lakes outside the breeding range; NALF affiliates report sightings of Common Loons in Nevada, the Mississippi Valley, and other unexpected locales, in addition to lakes along more "traditional" routes to the sea. In the winter, Common Loons spend their time at sea off the coasts of California, western Florida, and the Atlantic Seaboard. Common Loons also nest in Iceland, the British Isles, Scandinavia, and continental Europe and winter off the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of the European continent.

    The North American breeding range of the Common Loon is depicted in green on this map;
    its winter range is in blue.
    Its distinctive black-and-white plumage gives the Common Loon great visual appeal, but the Common Loon's haunting calls add another dimension to its popularity. Common Loons produce four major call types: wails, yodels, tremolos, and hoots.
    Wails are howl-like calls that resemble the notes of a clarinet, and can travel great distances across calm water. Wails serve to keep loons in contact with one another, and are often the first calls in Common Loon choruses. At night, a series of several wails may be followed by a succession of yodels, tremolos, or tremolo duets as loons from miles around begin vocalizing in chorus. Some observers have likened the wail to dialing a "1" when placing a long-distance phone call; once acoustic contact is achieved, several loons get in on the "conversation."
    Yodels are the most complex calls in the Common Loon's repertoire. They are produced only by males, and are an important component of a male loon's ability to defend his territory. Research sponsored by NALF has revealed that each male loon can be identified by a unique vocal signature encoded in his yodel. The crouching posture associated with the yodel, as depicted in the photo, probably helps increase the distance over which the sound travels, warning distant rivals to stay away.
    Tremolos are sometimes referred to as the "laugh" of the loon, and their trembling quality is probably the source of the expression "crazy as a loon." Tremolos are sometimes associated with situations in which a loon may feel threatened or is defending its chicks from a perceived threat. Other times, the male and female of a pair may tremolo in duet, a cooperative display that may reinforce the pair bond or announce the presence of the bonded pair to neighbors or rivals.

    Click center button to hear the loon.
    Hoots are intimate calls that occur between members of a pair or a parent loon and its chicks. Occasionally, hoots precede certain visual displays (e.g., splash-dives) or occur during social interactions with territory intruders. For example, in the following photo, four adult Common Loons are engaging in a social encounter on a lake in Alaska; throughout this encounter, several of the birds hooted almost constantly until the encounter ended with the territory-owning male yodeling at the intruders. With that the intruders departed.

    Click center button to hear the loon.
    Because of their frequent encounters with humans, especially during the breeding season, Common Loons have disappeared from some areas along the southern fringes of their breeding range and are threatened by recreational and residential development along lakeshores across much of their range. Common Loons are designated as either "threatened" or a "species of special concern" in much of New England (except Maine), the upper Great Lakes region (except Minnesota), and the western United States. Among the reasons for their decline in these regions are loss of nesting habitat to shoreline development, the hazards of coexistence on lakes traversed by powered watercraft, ingestion of lead sinkers, contamination of freshwater lakes, loss of fish prey to acid precipitation, and fluctuating water levels on lakes managed for flood control or electric power.
    Visit my Gallery of Loon Pics.