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common loon

common loon (Gavia immer)
Photo © Mary Kay Rubey

Features and Behaviors

The common loon averages 28 to 36 inches in length (tail tip to bill tip in preserved specimen). It has a strong, stout, pointed bill. In summer, the bird’s back feathers have a black-and-white checkered pattern. The bill, head and neck are black. There are white chest feathers and an incomplete white neck ring. The eye is bright red. In winter, the loon has dark gray feathers on the back, tail, upper head and upper neck with white feathers on the chest, lower head and lower neck. The bill in winter is lighter than in summer.

The common loon is a common migrant, rare winter resident and nonbreeding summer resident in Illinois. It may be seen on large lakes, ponds and rivers, swimming low in the water. This bird usually migrates at night. Spring migrants begin arriving in Illinois in late March. The common loon nests in the northern United States and Canada. The nest is placed close to the water’s edge. The nest at first is a very small pile of plant debris, but nest construction continues by both sexes throughout incubation until a substantial pile of vegetation exists. One or two, green or green-brown eggs with dark spots are deposited by the female. Both the male and the female share incubation duties over the 29-day incubation period. Fall migrants begin returning to Illinois in October. The common loon eats fishes. It makes distinctive wailing, yodeling or laughing sounds.

Illinois Range


​Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Gaviiformes
Family: Gaviidae

Illinois Status: common, native