Common loon

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More names for this bird

Dakota: Bdoza

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

Two common loons silhouetted against water reflecting orange sunlight
Pair of common loons on water.
August 1, 2014, Schoolcraft County, Michigan
Photo by USFWS Midwest via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

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.

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Migration animation

Click the full-frame icon (lower right corner of video) to play at full size.

Video file

More about eBird's abundance animations

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.

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.

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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.

One common loon on the water
Two adult common loons on the water
Common loon on a nest at the edge of the water
Common loon on a nest surrounded by water
Adult common loon with two chicks on its back
Common loon with two chicks on its back
Common loon parents with two chicks
Common loon with one chick on its back
Common loon parent feeding a chick
Common loon chick swimming behind an adult
Common loon juvenile does not have the high-contrast spotted breeding plumage.
Common loon molting into winter plumage. Face shows more white than typical breeding plumage.
Late-season appearance of a loon in Minnesota, in winter plumage.

Audio resources


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.

Audio file
Common loon singing, June 9, 1996, Iceland
Recording by Fernand DEROUSSEN ( CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Audio file
Common loon singing, June 22, 2013, Ashland County, Wisconson
Recording by Jonathon Jongsma ( CC BY-SA 3.0

This recording includes one song (at 0:05) amid many calls.

Audio file
Loon calls and song, June 5, 2006, Kenora, Ontario, Canada
Recording by David Bradley ( CC BY-NC-ND 2.5

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:

Audio file
Common loon flight call, August 18, 2015, Kenora District, Ontario, Canada
Recording by Bobby Wilcox ( CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Audio file
Common loon calls, September 23, 2020, Kennebec County, Maine
Recording by Lance A. M. Benner ( CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

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.

Hubbard County

First seen

  • Earliest: March 24 (occurred in 2012)
  • Average: April 10
  • Latest: April 25 (occurred in 2013)
Scatterplot showing common loon phenology observations in Hubbard County, Minnesota

Download this dataset (.csv file)

Itasca County

First heard

  • Earliest: April 12 (occurred in 1999 and 2009)
  • Average: April 22
  • Latest: May 21 (occurred in 2002)
Scatterplot showing common loon phenology observations in Itasca County, Minnesota

Download this dataset (.csv file)

Sherburne County


  • Earliest: March 12 (occurred in 2002)
  • Average: April 7
  • Latest: April 30 (occurred in 2013)
Scatterplot showing common loon phenology in Sherburne County, Minnesota

Download this dataset (.csv file)