My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Common Loon, Gavia immer

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Common Loon, Gavia immer

The Great Northern Loon, is a large member of the loon, or diver, family of birds. The species is known as the Common Loon in North America and the Great Northern Diver in Eurasia; its current name is a compromise proposed by the International Ornithological Committee.

Breeding adults have a black head, white underparts, and a checkered black-and-white mantle. Non-breeding plumage is brownish, with the chin and fore-neck white. The bill is black-blue and held horizontally. The bill color and angle distinguish this species from the similar Yellow-billed Loon.

Bone structure: A number of solid bones (unlike normally hollow avian bones), which add weight but help in diving.

This species, like all divers, is a specialist fish-eater, catching its prey underwater, diving as deep as 200 feet (60 m). Freshwater diets consist of pike, perch, sunfish, trout, and bass; salt-water diets consist of rock fish, flounder, sea trout, and herring.

The bird needs a long distance to gain momentum for take-off, and is ungainly on landing. Its clumsiness on land is due to the legs being positioned at the rear of the body: this is ideal for diving but not well-suited for walking. When the birds land on water, they skim along on their bellies to slow down, rather than on their feet, as these are set too far back. The loon swims gracefully on the surface, dives as well as any flying bird, and flies competently for hundreds of kilometers in migration. It flies with its neck outstretched, usually calling a particular tremolo that can be used to identify a flying loon. Its flying speed is about 120 km/h (75 mph) during migration.

Its call has been alternately called “haunting,” “beautiful,” “thrilling,” “mystical”, and “enchanting.”

Great Northern Loon nests are usually placed on islands, where ground-based predators cannot normally access them. However, eggs and nestlings have been taken by gulls, corvids, raccoons, skunks, mink, foxes, snapping turtles, and large fish. Adults are not regularly preyed upon, but have been taken by sea otters (when wintering) and Bald Eagles. Osprey have been observed harassing divers, more likely out of kleptoparasitism than predation. When approached by a predator of either its nest or itself, divers sometimes attack the predator by rushing at it and attempting to impale it through the abdomen or the back of the head or neck.

Loons are solitary birds that do not tolerate human activity very well.

On to my photos:

Common loon

Common loon

Common loon cropped

Common loon cropped

Common loon diving

Common loon diving

This is number 90 in my photo life list, only 260 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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12 responses

  1. These birds are a big deal here and are often in the news because they eat lead fishing sinkers and die of lead poisoning. They are rarely seen though.

    April 25, 2013 at 6:14 am

    • Well, I never could figure out the lead sinker story, loons eat fish, they don’t typically feed on plant life on the bottom of a lake. If any species were dying of lead poisoning, it would seem to me to be mallards that do eat just about anything.

      There was a story in the news several months ago about a number of loons found dead and lead poisoning was suspected. A follow up story a week later, and buried, was that a form of botulism was the cause of death of the loons.

      I’m not saying that loons never die of lead poisoning, but my opinion is that we should see that more in species of puddle ducks more than diving ducks, and never trust the media.

      April 25, 2013 at 8:39 am

  2. plantsamazeme

    So I’ve seen loons in northern Michigan but not often around here. Is the Common Loon common around west Michigan? I understand, like you mentioned, that they are solitary birds, keeping away from people.
    You said in your last post that you saw a loon on Mona Lake (but bad photos/light) are these photos from a different time? Just curious. 🙂

    April 25, 2013 at 11:07 am

    • Back when I was bass fishing several times a week, I knew of two lakes in the Cedar Springs area where loons nested, though I have heard of a few farther south in more remote lakes. Not only don’t they like people, but they don’t like other loons either, other than their mate.

      The one in the photos in this post was in the Muskgegon Lake channel, so I doubt if it is the same one I saw at Mona Lake. They were both probably migrants on their way north, as loons don’t even flock while migrating for the most part.

      April 25, 2013 at 2:39 pm

      • plantsamazeme

        Thanks, I didn’t know all that. I just remember seeing loons while camping somewhere up north, we were in a canoe when we saw them. We heard them before we saw them.
        I checked in the photo album (prints) it was at Ess Lake,
        June 1988!
        It was a remote area at that time, a state forest camp ground.
        🙂

        April 25, 2013 at 3:53 pm

      • I had to look up Ess Lake, I thought that it sounded familiar. it is just east of the Pigeon River Country where I go quite often. That area is remote, and there’s often 1 pair of loons on the lakes up there. That’s my favorite part of lower Michigan.

        April 26, 2013 at 1:54 am

  3. And do you also get to hear their haunting cries in the summer?

    April 25, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    • Yes, but not as often as I would like.

      April 26, 2013 at 1:55 am

  4. I enjoy these solitary creatures, their calls are haunting. They often like to stay far out on the water and make it hard to take pictures though!

    April 25, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    • Yup, loons are the bird equivalent of me, they like their space, and being alone.

      April 26, 2013 at 2:01 am

  5. Absolutely wonderful captures of this haunting bird.

    April 28, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    • Thanks, now I just need a few more of them. I never knew that they had a blue band on the back of their neck until I saw my photos, one of the great reasons to photograph birds.

      April 28, 2013 at 8:38 pm