Gavia – Loons (divers)

These great swimmers are anything but loony!

Loons, or divers as they are commonly known in Europe, are a group of aquatic birds that make up the family Gaviidae within the order Gaviiformes. These birds are synonymous with wilderness and are often associated with the northern hemisphere’s pristine lakes and expansive boreal forests.

The loon’s body is streamlined for efficient aquatic life. Their dense, waterproof plumage provides excellent insulation against the often frigid waters they inhabit. This insulation is critical as many loons live in regions where they encounter icy water temperatures, especially in the Arctic and subarctic zones. Loons are known for their remarkable plumage, which transforms dramatically between seasons. In winter, they wear a more subdued grey-brown attire, providing camouflage away from their breeding grounds in open water. However, come the breeding season, they don a strikingly bold pattern of black and white, with checkered backs and striped necks that make them one of the most distinctive waterfowl species. Notably, their eyes are highlighted by a bright red iris, which stands out against their monochrome plumage and may serve to intimidate rivals or attract mates.

The anatomical placement of the loons’ legs is a unique adaptation that suits their aquatic lifestyle. Their legs are set far back on the body, making them somewhat awkward and ungainly on land, turning them into powerful swimmers underwater. These birds are designed for diving and can reach depths of up to 75 meters (250 feet), submerging for several minutes. This skill allows them to hunt for fish, which is the main component of their diet, although they also consume aquatic invertebrates, amphibians, and plant material.

Loons are celebrated for their haunting and variable calls, which echo across northern lakes and have become emblematic of the wild areas they inhabit. These vocalizations include mate attraction, territory defense, and communication between parents and young.