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The legs of loons are positioned well back on the body. This is great for swimming but makes walking on dry land difficult.

Winter and first year loons are similar in appearance. The differences can be subtle and difficult to make out at a distance or as the birds bounce on the waves.

Loons are perhaps best known for the haunting call of the Common Loon.


You need to know

  • There are five loon species native to North America. Only the Common Loon, however has a widespread distribution and is regularly reported inland.
  • Loons have both a breeding and non-breeding plumage that are substantially different.
  • The sexes are the same in appearance.
  • Juvenile loons generally look like winter adults.
  • All five of the loon species have a very similar look when in non-breeding (winter) plumage.
  • The shape and size of the bill are good field marks for identifying loons in winter plumage.

Three species of loons have their own pages in this section, just click on the name of the bird in question.

Arctic Loon

Primarily an old world species, the Arctic Loon nests in a small part of far western, central Alaska. Reports outside their nesting area are rare.

Very rare along the Pacific Coast of the United States in winter.  Very similar to the Pacific Loon. This species is seldom seen and identification by any but the most experienced birders is difficult.  It is not included in this section.

Common Loon

This wide-spread loon nests in large parts of Alaska, Canada and parts of the Northern United States. Winter populations are found along all three coast lines and in southern fresh-water lakes.

The large eye and large, heavy bill are good field marks for the Common Loon.

Pacific Loon

The Pacific Loon nests in Alaska and parts of northern Canada. Winters along the west coast.

Red-throated Loon

The Red-throated Loon nests in Alaska and northern Canada. Winter populations are found along the east and west coast.

Yellow-billed Loon

The Yellow-billed Loon nests in northern Alaska and Canada. Winters along parts of the Alaskan coast and western Canadian coast. This species is seldom reported it is not included in this section.


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