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Also known as the great northern diver, the common loon (Gavia immer) is a large representative of the loon, or diver, family of birds. Treated as the provincial bird of Ontario and the state bird of Minnesota, the common loon is currently a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List.
See the fact file below for more information on the common loon or alternatively, you can download our 21-page Common Loon worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- The common loon is identified as the great northern diver in Eurasia. The International Ornithological Committee proposed its former name, great northern loon.
- This species is among the five loon members classified under the genus Gavia, the sole genus of the family Gaviidae and order Gaviformes.
- The common loon’s closest cousin is another large black-headed bird, the yellow-billed loon or white-billed diver (Gavia adamsii). Currently, it has no acknowledged subspecies.
- In 1764, Morten Thrane Brünnich initially defined the common loon as Colymbus immer as mentioned in his Ornithologia Borealis.
- The non-existent genus Colymbus had grebes and loons, and remained in use until the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature tried to clear up the nomenclature in 1956 by establishing Colymbus, a restrained name inappropriate for further use and authorizing Gavia, coined by Johann Reinhold Forster in 1788, as the accepted genus name for the loons.
- The present genus name Gavia was the Latin word for an unknown seabird and the specific epithet immer originated from a Norweigian name for the bird, resembling the modern Icelandic word “himbrimi”. The word may be linked to Swedish terms immer and emmer which refers to the grey or blackened ashes of a fire, or to the Latin word immergo which means to immerse, and immersus which translates to submerged.
- The European label “diver” can be traced from the bird’s behavior of catching fish through diving. The North American word “loon” was first used in this sense in New England’s Prospect by William Wood in 1634. According to him, “the Loon is an ill shap’d thing like a Cormorant”. It may be deduced from Old Norse lómr, even from present-day Swedish and Danish lom, each pertaining to the animal’s unusual call.
- Several fossil loon species are discovered dating from the Pilocene era, and samples from the Pleistocene of California and Florida seem to describe a chronospecies of the common loon.
- Adults reach 66 to 91 cm in length, with a wingspan of about 127 to 147 cm, somewhat smaller than the yellow-billed loon. Their size differs regionally, specifically by body mass, with the smallest bodied loons found in lower-central Canada and the Great Lakes.
- During the breeding season, common loons sport an unusual plumage: a black head and bill and a black and white checkerboard back and “collar” around the throat. The white throat has a peculiar black indentation.
- A pale collar can sometimes be spotted on these birds. They also have dark grey-brown markings on the head and a spur of white stretching on the dark neck
- The back of the juvenile’s neck is sometimes a dark brownish-grey which may seem darker than the pale-edged black plumage. Its head, neck, and upper parts are darkish grey or black, while its throat, cheeks, and underparts are covered with white feathers. During the first winter, a juvenile’s bill shape may not be as fully developed as the mature common loon’s. In the second winter, it already mirrors the breeding adult, but with wing coverts without white spots.
DISTRIBUTION AND HABITAT
- Common loons are primarily nearctic, breeding from 48° N to the Arctic Circle, south to 40° N and north to 78° N.
- During the breeding season in spring and summer, the majority of the common loons are found on lakes and other waterways in the northern United States and Canada, as well as the southern parts of Greenland, Iceland, Svalbard, Jan Mayen, and Bear Island in Norway.
- Their summer habitat varies from wooden lakes to tundra ponds. These lakes should be big enough for flight take-off, and supply a huge population of small fish. Habitats where breeding common loons are successful raising their young include deep lakes with warm surface waters, low biological productivity, and low turbidity where their fish prey can be easily spotted.
BEHAVIOR AND DIET
- A distinguished expert fisher, the common loon captures its prey underwater by diving as deep as 60 meters. It is known to be an excellent underwater pursuit predator and adept diver due to its huge webbed feet.
- The common loon requires a lengthy run-up distance to build up momentum for flight take-off; it is clumsy on land, gliding on its belly and pushing itself forward using its legs. Its leg positioning at the back part of its body causes its clumsiness on land. The common loon’s pelvic muscles are well-adapted for swimming but not for walking.
- When the common loon is on water, it glides quickly along on its belly to slow down instead of halting with its feet, as they are positioned too far back.
- It lives on a fish diet, such as minnows, suckers, gizzard shad, rock bass, alewife, northern pike, whitefish, sauger, brown bullhead, pumpkinseed, burbot, walleye, bluegill, white crappie, black crappie, rainbow smelt, and killifish.
- Juveniles usually prey on small minnows, insects, and patches of green vegetation.
- Pike, perch, sunfish, trout, and bass make up their freshwater diet. Rockfish, flounder, sea trout, herring, Atlantic croaker, haddock, and Gulf silverside, on the other hand, make up their saltwater diet.
- If common loons are unable to forage for fish, they prey on crustaceans, crayfish, snails, leeches, insect larvae, molluscs, frogs, annelids, and sometimes aquatic plant matter such as pondweed, roots, moss, willow shoots, seeds, and algae.
- When catching prey, the common loon’s powerful back legs help its body drive underwater at high speed. The majority of its prey are swallowed underwater, where they are caught; however, larger prey are initially brought on land.
- Common loons are serially monogamous; breeding pairs protect their domain composed of an entire small lake or a bay within a large lake.
- Common loon couples stay together throughout a breeding trial, rear their own chicks, revisit each other every spring, and may breed together for a number of years.
- When one of the breeding pair dies or when one pair member faces territorial eviction because of an intruding loon of the same sex, the other member instantly creates a pair bond with the evicting loon. These evicting birds are usually young males and females between five to nine years old, and evicted adults are sometimes 15 years old and above.
- Breeding pairs do not stick with each other during winter; males usually shadow females for a few weeks during spring migration, establishing on their lake once a piece of it turns ice-free.
- Copulation happens on land, often on where the nest is situated, repeated on a daily basis until the eggs are settled.
- Common loons’ courtship is simple, with mutual bill-dipping and dives.
- Nesting starts in early May, when the majority of these birds choose nesting sites on islands rather than on mainland shorelines. Pairs roam around their territory, even at night, protecting it both physically and vocally.
- Newly hatched chicks are covered with dark chocolate brown feathers with white bellies. Hours after hatching, the chicks start to leave the nest with their parents, swimming close by and often riding on one parent’s back. Common loon families originally stay in shallow, confined bays where the parents are able to protect their young better from predators, such as invading loons and eagles.
- The common loon has been classified as a Least Concern species by the IUCN since 1998.
- Despite its stable population, the common loon has experienced a decrease in breeding range caused by hunting, predation, and water-level fluctuations, or flooding.
Common Loon Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the common loon across 21 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Common Loon worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the common loon (Gavia immer) which is a large representative of the loon, or diver, family of birds. Treated as the provincial bird of Ontario and the state bird of Minnesota, the common loon is currently a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Common Loon Facts
- What’s Common, Loon?
- Loon-y Facts
- Common Loon’s Anatomy
- Chick’s Life
- Common Loon FAQs
- Tell Me More
- The Loons
- Two Birds, One… Look?
- Collage of Uses
- Common Loon Origami
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Link will appear as Common Loon Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, September 23, 2020
Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.