Common Loon

Common Loon


In their breeding plumage, Common Loons are the elegant black and white tuxedo-clad birds of the northern lakes and the oceans. They sport a dagger-like bill and a red eye, white stripes on the neck and spots on the back, making for a handsome sight.  Their tremulo calls and yodels have been called “the laugh of the deeply insane,” but most believe them to be eerily beautiful.

Common Loon

While watching this handsome loon at the lake at Montour Preserve, I witnessed an immature Bald Eagle harassing him, diving low over the bird as it rose up out of the water with bill up in the air in its territorial display. The eagle settled down on the support structure of the dam for awhile, but every time I heard the Common Loon give its cry and saw it rise up out of the water, I knew the eagle was on the move. Sure enough, it was flying over the water again.

Common Loon

Common Loons are incredible divers. Unlike most birds, their bones are heavy, not hollow. They can easily deflate their lungs and dive below to pick up fish and crustaceans to eat. Cornell’s website, says,

their fishing pursuits underwater are something to behold. Loons shoot through the water like a torpedo, propelled by powerful thrusts of feet located near the rear of their body. When their quarry changes direction, loons can execute an abrupt flip-turn that would make Olympic swimmers jealous: they extend one foot laterally as a pivot brake and kick with the opposite foot to turn 180 degrees in a fraction of a second.

It was fascinating to watch this bird dive down for several minutes, come up far from where it went down, and appear with a very large crayfish!

Common Loon

Although these photos were all taken the same day in March, some were still in their winter plumage. The black neck with the striped collar has been replaced with an irregularly-marked white neck.

Common Loon

He’s still a powerful looking bird though!  When visiting Montour Preserve or Rose Valley Lake in winter, be sure to scan for these beautiful birds and keep your ears open for their haunting calls!

Lauren Shaffer

Lauren Shaffer wrote 146 posts

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  • Dick Hess

    Beautiful pictures Lauren.

    • Lauren Shaffer

      Thanks, Dick! These loons were awesome to get so close to!

  • brighamstephen

    These are wonderful shots, I especially like the feeding one with the crayfish. You must have been quite close or have a great long lens. Thanks for sharing.

    • Lauren Shaffer

      Thanks for your kind words, brighamstephen! I use a Canon7D with a 400mm lens, handheld, but the light was good and the loons were fairly close, so I could get a good crop.

  • Dave

    They may be called Common Loons but there is nothing common about them to me! I’ve been enjoying all your photos. Thanks for posting them.

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