Maryland Birds

Common Loon
(Gavia immer)

Common Loon 


Description & Range:

The Common Loon is a long-bodied, duck-like, swimming bird with large webbed feet. The species can be identified by its straight, pointed bill and distinctive plumage. In winter, it is blackish above and whitish below, with a pale gray bill and a white throat. During the breeding season, its plumage shows a black and white checkered pattern on the back and necklace, along with a black head and bill.

Found in Maryland during the winter months, loons begin arriving to the Chesapeake Bay in September, migrating from their northern breeding grounds in Canada and the Great Lakes region of the United States. There, they nest and breed on land by the edge of woodland lakes and ponds. By October and November, they can be found in the thousands along the open waters of the Bay, feeding on Atlantic Menhaden and other small fish.


Loons spend the summers in lakes and flooded ponds; they spend the winter months in large lakes, bays, and oceans.


Small fish, crustaceans, and other aquatic life.

Common LoonReproduction:

Returning to the same breeding grounds year after year, Common Loons are believed to mate for life. Upon their return, the pair renews their bond with short displays, including synchronized swimming, head posturing and diving.

The nest is built within a few feet of the water's edge by both the male and female. A clutch of two eggs is laid sometime between mid-May and June. The young hatch after an incubation period of 26-31 days and begin to swim almost at once. Within 24 hours, they are moved by the parents to a nursery area away from the nest. In 2-3 weeks, the young are able to make short dives and catch small fish. Fledging occurs in 11-13 weeks. Juveniles may spend several years in oceanic wintering areas before returning inland to breed.


Falsetto wails, weird yodeling, maniacal laughter, during breeding season; usually silent during non-breeding season.

Did you know?

Maybe what loons are most well know for, though, is their eerie night call, which has become an iconic sound of the northern wild.