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Home > Science > Common Loon - Water Birds Series

Common Loon - Water Birds Series

This page tells about the Common Loon. It is part of our water birds series.


The unmistakable Common Loon is one of the most recognizable birds of the wooded lakes in the north woods. It is mostly black with a white breast and white underparts. Its black back is speckled with bars of white. In addition, it has a "necklace" that consists of vertical white stripes. The loon has a long, sharp bill and distinctive red eyes. Males and females are identical.The loon's legs are positioned extremely far back on its body. While this feature certainly helps propel the loon in water, it makes traveling on land awkward and difficult. In the winter, the Common Loon looks completely different. It is pale brown above and white below. The eye is dark rather than red. The Common Loon may reach a length of three feet.

The beloved call of the Common Loon is the hallmark of the north woods. The loon's eerie yodel can be heard from miles away on a clear, quiet night. Sometimes, several loons will yodel at once, making for a surreal auditory experience.

Female loons lay 2-4 eggs on a floating island or along the shore of a lake. The young are active as soon as they hatch. Young loons will ride on their mother's back before taking to the water.


The Common Loon can dive to incredible depths in search of fish, which are eaten underwater. The loon may occasionally eat invertebrates as well.

Range and Habitat

The Common Loon breeds throughout Canada and northern portions of the United States. In the United States, breeding populations exist in northern New England, the Adirondack Mountains of New York, northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, as well as northern Montana, Wyoming and Washington. In winter, the Common Loon winters along both the Atlantic and Pacific coast and may be found inland on large lakes.

The Common Loon is restricted to large, freshwater lakes during the breeding season. Because of its large size and the placement of its legs, loons need large surfaces to take off from before flight. Occasionally, a loon will become stranded in a pond that is too small for it to fly from. In winter, loons are found in coastal marine areas near shores, or, large inland lakes.


Populations are thought to be declining because of water pollution and nest disturbance.


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