More names for this bird
The Dakota and Anishinaabe were among the earliest people to name Minnesota’s plants and animals, as well as to understand them in relation to Minnesota’s climate and seasons. Those original names are still in use, and several are included on the Season Watch website. However, complete translations were not available.
Latin (or scientific name): Gavia immer
The scientific community has a convention of assigning agreed-upon Latin names to every kind of organism. Using scientific names helps people communicate confidently about the same organism and organize lifeforms based on how closely related they are.
More common names: Great northern diver, great northern loon
About the common loon
- The common loon is a diving water bird larger than a crow but smaller than a goose.
- In spring and summer, it is black with white spots on top and white underneath. It has a different plumage during fall and winter which is gray on top and white underneath.
- Loons nest in hidden and protected areas along lake shorelines. They will also use human-made nesting platforms.
- Fun fact: Loons are like airplanes in that they need a runway for takeoff. In order to gain enough speed for lift-off, they need from thirty yards to a quarter mile (depending on the wind) to across the top of the water while flapping their wings.
- Common loons migrate. Expand the "Migration animation" section below to learn more.
Click the full-frame icon (lower right corner of video) to play at full size.
eBird data from 2006-2020. Estimated for 2020. Fink, D., T. Auer, A. Johnston, M. Strimas-Mackey, O. Robinson, S. Ligocki, W. Hochachka, L. Jaromczyk, C. Wood, I. Davies, M. Iliff, L. Seitz. 2021. eBird Status and Trends, Data Version: 2020; Released: 2021. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. https://doi.org/10.2173/ebirdst.2020
Visual guide to phenology
Watch for changes in loons' presence (or absence), abundance, and behaviors at different times of year. Also, pay attention to when young-of-year fledge and develop.
Note to observers
This page explains general clues to watch and listen for when observing common loon phenology. However, this page does not explain how to identify this bird or collect data in a standardized way.
A bird's song is a special vocalization associated with breeding behaviors such as setting up and defending territories, finding mates, and courtship. The first two recordings below are examples of the common loon's song.
This recording includes one song (at 0:05) amid many calls.
Loons call year-round, though they are not present in Minnesota year-round. After recognizing a loon's call, the next step is to locate the bird and watch for behavioral clues to its life cycle stage or activities. Here are two examples of calls by common loons:
Graphs and historical data
Note: The Orientation Center provides a map, as well as information on reading graphs; interpreting summary statistics, who collected the data and how; and how to download datasets for independent exploration.
Co-author: Jayme Hogan, Minnesota Master Naturalist