Pacific Loon: This medium-sized loon has a black-and-white checkered back and white underparts. It has a gray crown and nape, red eyes and a slender black bill. Iridescent throat patch can appear purple, green or black. Feeds mostly on fish, some crustaceans and insects. Flight is direct with rapid wing beats. Sexes are similar.
Range and Habitat
Pacific Loon: Found along the Western Coast of the United States during the fall and winter, and in Canada and Alaska, where they migrate for the breeding months. Found along the eastern coast of the Pacific Ocean and Arctic Ocean, along Canada's northern boundary. Can also be found in inland waterways and even lakes occurring along their migratory paths.
The GAVIIFORMES (pronounced gah-VEE -ih-FOR-meez) is an order that includes just one family of birds; the loons of the northern hemisphere.
The five species of loons share the same genus and are the only members of the Gaviidae (pronounced gah-VEE-ih-dee); a small family of ancient lineage only found in northern Eurasia and North America.
All five species of loons grouped within one genus occur in North America. These include the well known Common Loon, the similar Yellow-billed Loon and the Arctic Loon; a species with a primarily Eurasian distribution.
The Common Loon is well-known for its melancholy, wailing song that echoes across the dark waters of northern lakes on still, moon-lit nights. Loons are also known for their association with clean, pollutant-free waters.
Large birds with heavy bodies and short tails, loons have rather long, thick necks tipped by a dagger-like bill. Evolved for aquatic environments, their short legs with webbed feet are situated far back on their bodies. Nevertheless, they are strong fliers with long wings and have a slightly hunch-backed appearance in flight.
Loons have a general pattern of dark upperparts and white underparts that, in winter plumage, is devoid of strong markings. Both male and female breeding-plumaged loons, though, show bold white spotting on the upperparts and fine streaking on the neck. During breeding, the throat also has a dark patch that is iridescent in Arctic and Pacific Loons and reddish in the Red-throated Loon. The color of the bill is dark except for that of the aptly named Yellow-billed Loon.
Loons are highly aquatic birds that occur in freshwater and marine habitats. During the breeding season, members of the Gaviidae are found on the cold northern lakes of Canada and Alaska, the Common Loon also occurring in appropriate habitat in the most northern of the “lower 48” of the United States. In winter, all species frequent large, ice-free lakes, reservoirs, and coastal habitats in North America.
All loon species are migrants from their northern breeding grounds to their wintering habitats in North America and Northern Mexico.
Loons form pairs during the breeding season but are mostly solitary in nature during migration and winter. All species are highly piscivorous (fish-eating) but will also take crustaceans and salamanders. They catch such prey items on frequent, underwater dives by stabbing or grasping with their sharp bills.
Although no loon species are endangered, some populations in the northeastern United States are threatened by acid rain and potentially threatened by oil spills on the Pacific Coast.
The legs of loons are located so far back on their bodies that they can barely walk on land. In fact, these most aquatic of birds (along with grebes) only come to land to nest (always close to or surrounded by water). Their young take to the water a few days after hatching, often riding on the backs of adults for protection from predators and to conserve energy.