The Great Northern Loon or Common Loon (Gavia immer) on average is about 32 inches long, has a wingspan just under five feet and weighs about 9 lbs. Breeding adult loons have a black head, white underparts, and a checkered black-and-white mantle. Non-breeding plumage is brownish, with the chin and fore neck being white. You will see these distinctive markings in the gallery of loon pictures portrayed above. The iconic call of the loon is distinct to individuals and can be heard at great distances. Common Loons produce four major call types: wails, yodels, tremolos and hoots each with a different meaning:
- Tremolos: known as the “laugh” used to signal alarm or worry
- Wail: sounds like a “wolf’s howl” used to gain contact
- Yodel: produced only by males used as territorial marker
- Hoot: intimate calls between pairs or parent loon and chicks
Loon calls are most prevalent during breeding season as pairs aggressively defend their territories. Loons nest lakeside and incubate their eggs for 27 to 30 days. Hatchling’s leave the nest on their first day and are able to fly in about 11 weeks. They feed largely on fish and invertebrates. If you want to immerse yourself in the study of Loons I highly recommend picking yourself up a copy of Call of the Loon.
US Customers Can Buy Call of the Loon With DVD Here
Loon Photography – Tips For Getting Great Loon Pictures.
- Great Loon pictures require great lighting conditions and yes that means getting up before sunrise. I’m in my boat and out with the birds before the sun crests the horizon. Note the golden colour in the bubbling loon photograph, that shot is taken before the sun is up. Late evening is also an ideal time to capture a great loon image. Once the sun starts to get up higher in the sky all the white highlights get blown out.
- F/8 and be there absolutely applies to loon photography. In early morning you’ll need to boost the ISO to keep the shutter speed above 800, 1,000 preferred, for wing spreads and flight shots.
- Focus on the loons eye always. Standard operating procedure for wildlife photographers but always worth reminding and in great light you’ll get that classic red glowing eye which is must for a loon image that wows.
- Get down as low and level to the water as you can. The very best wildlife photography images are usually taken at the subjects eye level so in the case of loon pictures you need to go low, very low.
- Pay attention to the backgrounds. Very seldom do I come home with a great loon picture taken out in the middle of the lake. Shoreline shots particularly cattails make for nice backgrounds and reflections in the water.
- Calm water makes for great reflections of the loon so pay attention to the weather forecast, particularly wind forecasts. If it is going to be windy I generally take a pass on loon photography and stay in bed or go shoot other subjects on land.
- Invest in an electric trolling motor. The best purchase I ever made, it has a hand held remote so I can steer the boat without ever taking my eye off the loons. It’s super silent so minimal disturbance to the birds.
- First light is feeding time, especially so for a family with young chicks. The male loon does the fishing and mom stays with the young, so don’t go chasing the male, he always returns until all have had their fill.
- Keep an eye open along shore, especially islands where predation would be low, as this is often where loons prefer to nest. Once found keep your distance so not to disturb the adults on the nest.
The common loon, which is found throughout Canada, is not endangered – yet - but shoreline developments continue to destroy nesting sites, and recreational activities can seriously disrupt both adults and chicks. As well, studies show that acid rain kills fish and other food sources in lakes. In highly acidic lakes, loon chicks can starve.
A national survey on the common loon aims to keep this situation from getting out of hand. The Canadian Lakes Loon Survey (CLLS) relies on thousands of volunteers across the country to monitor lakes for signs of this bird. It is important to keep tabs on lakes without any loons as well. Comparing both types will give biologists clues to the birds’ survival needs. You can help in the conservation of loons by volunteering to monitor a lake.