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Common loon

Gavia immer

Photo: Common loon
Animal description
The Common Loon, scientifically known as Gavia immer, is a captivating bird species that is most renowned for its eerie, melodious calls and striking appearance. Native to North America, this aquatic bird is a symbol of wilderness and is often associated with the serene, untouched lakes of Canada and the northern United States. The Common Loon is an emblem of the state of Minnesota and holds a special place in the hearts of nature enthusiasts and bird watchers.

Physical Description:
The Common Loon is a large bird, measuring about 28 to 36 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 60 inches, making it one of the larger members of the loon family. Adults are distinguished by their striking black-and-white summer plumage. The back is covered in a checkerboard pattern of black and white, which provides excellent camouflage against the dappled sunlight of the water's surface. The chest and underparts are primarily white, contrasting sharply with the bird's black head and neck. A notable feature is the red eyes, which stand out against the black head, possibly playing a role in courtship or in deterring predators. In winter, their plumage becomes more muted, with grays replacing the stark black and white, allowing them to blend into the oceanic environment where they spend their winters.

Behavior and Diet:
The Common Loon is an exceptional diver, capable of plunging to depths of up to 200 feet in search of fish, which constitutes the bulk of its diet. Its body is perfectly adapted for this purpose, with legs set far back on its body to aid in propulsion underwater. However, this adaptation means loons are somewhat awkward on land, where they can only shuffle awkwardly. Loons are also capable of long flights during migration, traveling thousands of miles between their breeding and wintering grounds.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Common Loon is its vocalization, comprising a variety of calls used for communication between mates, signaling alarm, and marking territory. The haunting quality of the loon's call, echoing over the still waters of a northern lake, is an iconic sound of the wilderness. These calls include the tremolo, yodel, wail, and hoot, each serving different purposes in the loon's social structure and communication.

Reproduction and Lifecycle:
Common Loons are monogamous and highly territorial during the breeding season, which occurs from late spring to summer. They build their nests close to the water's edge, often on small islands or secluded shorelines to minimize the risk of predation. The female typically lays two eggs, which both parents then incubate. After hatching, the chicks are able to swim almost immediately but are dependent on their parents for food and protection for several weeks. The young loons are taught to dive and hunt by their parents, preparing them for independence.

While the Common Loon is not currently considered endangered, it faces several threats from human activity, including habitat loss, pollution, and entanglement in fishing gear. Additionally, climate change poses a long-term threat by altering the loon's freshwater habitat. Conservation efforts focus on protecting nesting sites, improving water quality, and raising public awareness about the species.

In conclusion, the Common Loon is a remarkable bird, embodying the wild, untamed beauty of North America's lakes and forests. Its distinctive appearance, haunting calls, and fascinating behaviors make it an unforgettable symbol of the natural world.
Map of occurrence
Photo: Common loon - occurrence
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