6 Amazing Facts About Common Loons

Get to know the water-loving common loon. Learn about this bird's habits, wingspan, what it eats, how fast it flies and more.

Common Loons Prepare for Takeoff

Common loon stretching its wingsCourtesy Justin Croteau
Adult common loon

To heft their bodies into the air, loons need a long runway, much like an airplane getting ready for a flight. These loons require as much as 600 feet of open water to eventually get into the air. Did you know: The common loon is Minnesota’s state bird! Take our state bird quiz to test your knowledge.

Loons Fly Surprisingly Fast

Once airborne, a loon can reach speeds of 70 miles per hour. Though that’s quite fast, it’s not nearly as speedy as falcons—some species can hit nearly 200 miles per hour in flight!

Learn more about bird wings and flight feathers.

Other Types of Loons Also Live in North America

Red-throated loon. red-throated diver (Gavia stellata) in breeding plumage swimming and flapping its wings in lake in summerArterra/Getty Images
Red-throated loon

Common loons are special, but not one-of-a-kind. Four other species of loons are found in the United States and Canada, including the Pacific loon and the red-throated loon (above). Note that although they swim in lakes, loons are not a type of duck.

What Does a Common Loon Look Like?

common loon, black and white birdsCourtesy Bill Dinkins
Common loon on her nest

Common loons may appear compact while bobbing in the water, but a loon’s wingspan is approximately 46 inches. For comparison, a red-tailed hawk‘s wingspan is about the same size. There is a beautiful iridescent turquoise patch at the base of their neck in addition to the intricate black and white summer breeding plumage.

Discover 20 black and white birds you might see.

What Do Common Loons Eat?

Common Loon Chick Riding On Mother As Father Cruises PastBrianLasenby/Getty Images
A week-old common loon chick rides on its mother’s back as the father cruises by in Ontario, Canada

A family of loons eats roughly 1,000 pounds of fish during the breeding season before the chicks set off on their own.

Learn more about loon nests and other types of bird nests.

Listen Closely to Common Loon Calls

common loons in MinnesotaCourtesy Kaitlyn Plachecki
Common loons call to their mates.

Common loons have at least six distinct calls. The wail, tremolo, yodel and hoot are the most frequently used. An adult loon typically hoots to communicate at close range with its young or its mate.

Next, hear what a wood duck sounds like.

Amy Grisak
Working for a decade as a sound recordist on natural history programs for National Geographic Television gave freelance writer and author Amy Grisak a deep appreciation for the bird sounds heard throughout the season. Combining this work with decades of gardening experience, which is another one of her favorite writing topics, birds are part of nearly everything she does. Whether she is working in her backyard or hiking the trails of her Montana home, she loves sharing her birding experience with readers.