Gaviidae – Loons (divers)

These great swimmers are anything but loony!

These birds are synonymous with wilderness and pristine northern lakes, where their haunting calls echo across the water, especially in the breeding season. Loons are highly specialized for aquatic living and are found predominantly in the northern hemisphere, with five species varying in size from medium to large.

Loons are superbly adapted to their cold environments. Their plumage is exceptionally dense, providing necessary insulation against the frigid waters of the Arctic and subarctic regions they often inhabit. The waterproof nature of their feathers is essential for their lifestyle, which involves spending a significant amount of time submerged in search of food.

Loons exhibit a remarkable dichotomy in plumage between seasons. During the non-breeding season, they sport a rather unassuming grey-brown plumage, which provides camouflage in the open water. In contrast, the breeding season transforms to a stunningly bold pattern of black and white, with checkered back markings and a necklace of striped feathers around the neck. The breeding plumage is not just for show; it plays a role in mate attraction and territorial displays. Another striking feature is their red iris, which stands out against their black heads and adds to their distinctive appearance.

Their legs are set far back on their bodies, an anatomical adaptation that aids in powerful propulsion underwater but renders them somewhat awkward on land. As a result, loons are rarely found far from water, and their nests are built close to the shore to minimize the distance they must travel on land.

Loons are exceptional divers, known to reach depths of up to 75 meters (250 feet) in search of fish, which constitute the bulk of their diet. They can remain submerged for several minutes on a single breath, using their strong legs to chase down prey with agility and speed.