Common Loon | Life Histories of North American Birds | A.C. Bent
Feather Pic Arthur Cleveland Bent

Life Histories of Familiar North American Birds
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Common Loon
Gavia immer

[Published in 1919: Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 107: 47-60]

Among the picturesque lakes of the wilder, wooded portions of the Northern States and Canada--where dark firs and spruces mingled with graceful white birches, cast their reflections in the still, clear waters--sportsmen and appreciative nature lovers have found attractive summer resorts. Here, far from the cares of the busy world, one finds true recreation in his pursuit of speckled trout, real rest in his camp among the fragrant balsams, and genuine joy in his communion with nature in her wildest solitudes. The woodland lakes would be solitudes, indeed, did they lack the finishing touch to make the picture complete, the tinge of wildness which adds color to the scene, the weird and mournful cry of the loon, as he calls to his mate or greets some new arrival. Who has ever paddled a canoe, or cast a fly, or pitched a tent in the north woods and has not stopped to listen to this wail of the wilderness? And what would the wilderness be without it?

Spring.--Loons love solitude and return each year to their chosen lake soon after the ice goes out in the spring. This usually occurs late in April in Maine and correspondingly later farther north. We saw them migrating in large numbers along the south coast of Labrador between May 23 and June 3, 1909; they were in loose detached flocks in which the individuals were widely scattered. The spring flight on the Massachusetts coast is prolonged through April and May, the heaviest flight occurring about the middle of May. The migration is mainly along the coast, a short distance off the shore, though they fly across Cape Cod at its narrowest part, from Buzzards Bay into Cape Cod Bay.

The loons are apparently paired when they arrive on their breeding grounds and I believe they are usually mated for life. They show strong attachment to their old home and return year after year to the same spot to nest, even if they have been repeatedly disturbed. Apparently they do not desert a locality until one or both of the pair are killed. Loons are nowhere really abundant, but they are evenly distributed over a wide breeding range, are universally known, and are so conspicuous that they seem to be commoner than they actually are. Nearly every suitable lake within the breeding range of the species has its pair of loons, or has had it, and many large lakes support two or more pairs. The breeding range of this species is becoming more and more restricted as the country becomes cleared and settled; the loons are being gradually killed off or driven away. A pair of loons nested in Quittacus Pond, Lakeville, Massachusetts, about 14 miles from my home, in 1872, but the eggs were taken and both birds were shot; none have nested in this section of the State since. The same story is true of many another New England lake where the insatiable desire to kill has forever extirpated an exceedingly interesting bird.

Nesting.--The description of three nests which I have examined will serve to illustrate the ordinary nesting habits of this loon. The first nest was found on June 16, 1899, near Brooksville, Maine; it was located in the water near the marshy and reedy shores of a secluded little cove on a large pond. The loon was incubating and we saw her slide of into the water with a big splash, going directly under and swimming away almost under our boat, the ripples on the surface and a row of bubbles marking her course; when she reached the entrance to the cove, about 15 yards past us, she came to the surface and flapped along, rapidly disappearing around a point and leaving a foaming wake behind her. The nest was a large circular mass of wet, soggy, half-rotten reeds and other vegetable matter heaped up in the shallow water near the edge of the growing reeds; it measured about 2 feet in diameter, was only slightly hollowed in the center, and was built up about 6 inches above the water. It contained two nearly fresh eggs, which were lying parallel to each other and about 2 inches apart.

The second nest, found on June 6, 1900, was on a little rocky islet, only about 10 yards long, in Cathance Lake, Washington County, Maine. The nest was only about 2 feet from the water, with a well-worn pathway down which the bird could slide into the water. It was well concealed under some alders, little maples, and other underbrush, and was a wet mass of green mosses, mixed with a few twigs, built on the rocks with one small rock left bare near the middle of the nest. It measured about 25 inches in outside and 16 inches in inside diameter. The inner cavity was about 3 inches deep and the outer rim was built up about 4 inches, so that the moss was only about an inch thick in the center of the nest. The two fresh eggs were lying in the center of the nest about an inch apart. We did not see the loon leave the nest, but we saw the pair swimming about in the lake and heard the weird cry.

The third nest was found on June 23, 1912, on the shore of a heavily wooded island in Sandy Lake, Newfoundland. It was placed just above an open sandy beach, among some small scattered underbrush, 30 feet from the shore. The lake had been very much higher a few weeks previously and probably, at the time the nest was built, it was near the edge of the water. Another nest, in the same general region, was similarly located, probably for the same reason. The birds in both cases had worn a pathway to the water, where the prints of their feet were plainly visible in the sand. The nest was merely a slight hollow in the bare ground with a wide rim of dry grass, bits of sticks and rubbish around it. This loon did not leave the nest until I was within 50 feet of it; but she made good speed, scrambling down to the lake, half running, half flying, and flapping away over the surface until she reached water deep enough for diving. The two eggs in the nest were heavily incubated; one of them was nearly ready to hatch and the other was addled, as is often the case.

Loons are reported by many observers as nesting on muskrat houses. I have never seen such a nest, but suppose they must select the old, abandoned houses or else build up piles of rubbish themselves which look like muskrat houses. I believe that they prefer to occupy the same nest every year and they probably add to it a little each year.

Eggs.--This loon lays normally two eggs, one of which is often infertile; sometimes only one egg is laid and occasionally three are found in a nest. Audubon was quite confident that three eggs was the usual number and many other writers have referred to it. I have never found a set of three eggs and believe that they are very rarely seen. The eggs vary but little in shape from "elliptical ovate" to "elongate ovate." The shell is thick, smoothly granular, and has a dull luster. The ground color varies from dark to light olive brown or from dark to light olive green with various intermediate shades. They are rather sparingly marked with small spots of "clove brown" or "bister," and occasionally with lighter spots of drab; the markings are usually much scattered. I have seen it stated in print that a set usually contains one brown and one green egg, but I have not found it to be so in the nests that I have examined.

The measurements of 41 eggs in various collections average 88.9 by 56.2 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 96.5 by 61 and 82 by 52 millimeters.

Only one brood is raised in a season, but if the first set of eggs is taken, another set is laid within three or four weeks; sometimes even a third set is laid if the first two have been disturbed, but this would not be likely to happen unless the first set was laid very early. Mr. Ora W. Knight (1918) gives the period of incubation as "very close to 29 days." The pair keep together during the incubating period and probably both take part in it, though this is difficult to determine, as the sexes look so much alike. Incubation is practically continuous; the eggs are never allowed to become too cool, though they will stand considerable chilling, and they are never covered with rubbish. While incubating, the loon sits very low and is spread out quite flat; she is not so conspicuous as her striking colors would indicate.

Young.--Mr. C. William Beebe (1907) made a study of two young loons, which were hatched from eggs brought to the New York Zoological Park, from which he drew the following conclusions:

It is probable that young loons are, from the first, fed on whole, not on macerated or regurgitated fish. The actions of swimming and preening are instinctive. The method of swimming is usually by alternate strokes. These become simultaneous when a sudden spurt or great speed is desired. The arc of the swimming stroke, in the young chick, is much more lateral than in the adult bird. Loon chicks can progress more easily and rapidly over the ground than can the adults, in spite of the preceding conclusion. Progression, however, is never by walking, but by frog-like leaps. Diving, catching fish or swallowing them head first are almost congenital instincts, much improved by practice within the first week. There is no instinctive fear in these young birds. It is probable that the young loons instinctively recognize the usual rolling, laughter-like call of the parents, judging from their reaction to the notes of the giant kingfisher.

Mr. F. A. Shaw, writing to me of the habits of loons at Sebago Lake, Maine, says:

When the loon family is approached by boat, the parent bird retires to a safe distance and by loud cries and by flapping the wings on the water endeavors to draw attention from the little ones to herself. If closely pursued the young, even in their downy first plumage, will dive and swim under water for several feet. I have seen them dive and swim under clear, calm water, and bright bubbles would stand on their little backs. On returning to the surface, they would shake themselves and their downy covering would be perfectly dry.

Audubon (1840) says, of the food and development of the young:

The young of the loon are covered at birth with a kind of black stiff down and in a day or two after are led to the water by their mother. They swim and dive extremely well even at this early stage of their existence, and after being fed by regurgitation for about a fortnight, receive portions of fish, aquatic insects, and small reptiles, until they are able to maintain themselves. During this period, gray feathers appear among the down of the back and belly, and the black quill feathers of the wings and tail gradually elongate. They are generally very fat, and so clumsy as to be easily caught on land, if their retreat to the water is cut off. But should you miss your opportunity and the birds succeed in gaining the liquid element, into which they drop like so many terrapins, you will be astonished to see them as it were run over the water with extreme celerity, leaving behind them a distinct furrow. When the young are well able to fly, the mother entices them to remove from the pond or lake on which they have been bred, and leads them on the wing to the nearest part of the sea, after which she leaves them to shift for themselves. Now and then, after this period, the end of August or beginning of September, I have still seen the young of a brood, two or three in number continuing together until they were induced to travel southward, when they generally set out singly.

Mr. Cecil Swale writes, in a letter to Mr. W. E. Saunders:

When a pair of young ones can fly, the parents appear to call in another pair to celebrate and they certainly do it; for several years we have noticed that on one particular day, and only one that summer, six loons will be seen in the air at once making a lot of noise; four of the birds seem equally strong and make wide circles round the other two. It is generally August before this happens.

August seems rather early for young loons to be flying, as they are usually not strong on the wing until the middle or last of September.

Plumages.--The young loon, when first hatched is completely covered with soft, thick, short down; the entire upper parts including the head, neck, chest, and sides are dark colored, "fuscous black" on crown and back, "fuscous" on throat and sides; only the central belly portion is white, tinged laterally with grayish. I have not been able to find any specimens showing the change from the downy stage into their first winter plumage. The latter, however, is well represented in collections and is well marked; it is chiefly characterized by the well-rounded feathers of the back and scapulars which are broadly edged with gray or whitish; the top of the head, hind neck, and rump are blackish or sooty, grading off gradually on the sides of the neck into the fine dusky mottling of the throat; the chin, sometimes the throat and the under parts are white. This plumage is worn for nearly a year without much modification, the light edgings above bleaching out to white or wearing away and the throat becoming whiter toward spring. The bill is horn colored in the fall, becoming darker in the spring, but never black. Probably there is an incomplete prenuptial molt. The postnuptial molt is complete and produces early in the next fall the second winter plumage, which is similar to the first winter plumage except that the dark crown is more clearly defined, the throat is pure white and the feathers of the back, which still have broad light edgings, are less rounded and more nearly square at their tips. This plumage is worn for only a short time in some individuals which begin to show signs of molt into the second nuptial plumage as early as November or December, by the growth of a few of the jet-black feathers with white spots on the back, wings, rump, and flanks; usually this molt is not much in evidence until February; from that time on the prenuptial molt advances to the head and neck and by April or May the second nuptial plumage is completed. This is similar to the adult nuptial plumage, but is duller, more dingy, and often incomplete, with more or less white in the chin and throat. Specimens in this plumage have been found to have the sexual organs somewhat enlarged, indicating that the birds probably breed when about 2 years old. The bill is now black and never again becomes as light colored as in young birds. At the next postnuptial molt of the young bird becomes fully adult, when a little over 2 years old.

The adult winter plumage, assumed during the third fall, is characterized by the black bill and by the square tipped feathers of the back and scapulars, which have no light edgings but have a faint suggestion, a ghost as it were, of a white spot on the nuptial plumage in a shade of gray only slightly lighter than the rest of the feather. This plumage is worn for only a short time, as in the second year bird; specimens in this plumage are very scarce in collections and it is difficult to find one that is not either molting into it or out of it; the postnuptial molt into it begins sometimes by the last of August,  but sometimes not until October; and the prenuptial molt out of it may begin in November or later in the winter and may not be completed until spring. Apparently some individuals, perhaps very old birds, do not assume this winter plumage at all, for I have seen birds in fully adult breeding plumage in September, October, and November.

Food.--This loon feeds largely on fish, which it pursues beneath the surface with wonderful power and speed. The sub aqueous rush of this formidable monster must cause great consternation among the finny tribes. Even a party of fish-hunting mergansers is promptly scattered before the onslaught of such a powerful rival; they recognize his superior strength and speed, as he plunges among them, and must stand aside until his wants are satisfied. Even the lively trout, noted for its quickness of movement cannot escape the loon and large numbers of these desirable fish are destroyed to satisfy its hunger. Some sportsmen have advocated placing a bounty on loons on this account, but as both loon and trout have always flourished together until the advent of sportsmen, it is hardly fair to blame this bird, which is such an attractive feature in the wilds, for the scarcity of the trout. We are too apt to condemn a bird for what little damage it does in this way, without giving it credit for the right to live.

Mr. Hersey's notes state that a loon killed at Chatham, Massachusetts, in February had in its gullet 15 flounders averaging about 4 inches in length, but several of which were 6 inches long; in addition to this hearty meal its stomach was completely filled with a mass of partly digested fish.

Audubon (1840) says of its food habits:

Unlike the cormorant, the loon usually swallows its food under the water, unless it happens to bring up a shellfish or a crustaceous animal, which it munches for awhile before it swallows it. Fishes of numerous kinds, aquatic insects, water lizards, frogs, and leeches, have been found by me in its stomach, in which there is generally much coarse gravel, and sometimes the roots of fresh-water plants.

Dr. B. H. Warren (1890) says:

The stomach contents of seven loons, captured during the winter months in Chester, Delaware, Clinton, and Lehigh Counties, Pennsylvania, consisted entirely of fish bones and scales; two other specimens, purchased in the winter of 1881 from a game dealer in Philadelphia, were found to have fed on small seeds and portions of plants, apparently roots.

A loon which was kept for a while at the New York Aquarium, in a pool with skates and sculpins, was very aggressive, according to Mr. C. H. Townsend (1908); although "supplied with an abundance of live killifishes, its activity led it to strike frequently at the large fishes and it succeeded in swallowing one of the sculpins with a head larger than its own."

Dr. P. L. Hatch (1892) says:

Though fish and frogs are preferably their food, they do nicely without them when supplied with aquatic vegetation. If undisturbed by being fired at, they will visit the same localities daily during the season for their food.

Mr. W. F. Ganong (1890) gives a full account of an instance where a young loon attempted to eat a fresh-water clam, by inserting its bill into the open shell of the mollusk, which was about 2 inches long; the young loon found the clam too strong for it and lost part of its bill in consequence.

Mr. Cecil Swale writes that the loons "catch their fish across the bill and then with a quick toss bring the fish's head into the throat, stretch the head and neck straight up and the fish seems to work its own way down."

Behavior.--Dr. Bell says, according to Mr. Thomas McIlwraith (1894):

The loon, in common with some other waterfowl, has a curious habit, when its curiosity is excited by anything it does not understand, of pointing its bill straight upward, and turning its head rapidly round in every direction as if trying to solve the mystery under consideration. Once when in my shooting skiff, behind the rushes, drifting down the bay before a light wind, I came upon a pair of these birds feeding about 20 yards apart. They did not take much notice of what must have seemed to them a clump of floating rushes, and being close enough to one of them I thought to secure it, but the cap snapped. The birds hearing the noise, and still seeing nothing living, rushed together, and got their bills up, as described, for consultation.

These birds are said to spear the fish with the bill closed, and to bring them to the surface so that they may turn them endways for the purpose of swallowing. The gulls, hovering overhead, and seeing what is going on down in the clear water, watch for the moment the fish is raised to the surface, when they swoop down and carry it off. When many hungry gulls are present, this process is repeated till the patience of the loon is quite exhausted.

The loon navigates the air as a high powered cruiser plows the sea under forced draft. Perfection of design, with ample power effectively applied, produce the desired result. The lines are perfect; the strong neck and breast, terminating in the long sharp bill, are outstretched to pierce the air like the keenest spear; the heavy body, tapering fore and aft, glides through the air with the least possible resistance; and the big feet, held close together and straight out behind, form an effective rudder. The power is applied by wings--which seem too small--driven at high speed by large and powerful muscles. Its weight gives it stability and great momentum. It cannot rise off the land at all and before it can rise from the water it must patter along the surface, half running and half flying, beating the water with both feet and wings, for a long distance; even then it experiences considerable difficulty unless facing a strong wind. But when once under way its flight is strong, direct, rapid, and long sustained. While coot shooting off the cost we used to estimate the speed of a passing loon by noting the time required to fly from our line of boats a known distance to the next line of boats, where a puff of smoke would announce its arrival; we were convinced that, under favorable circumstances, the loon often attains a speed of 60 miles an hour. Its momentum is so great that when shot, high up in the air, it will strike the water in falling at a surprisingly long distance, plowing up the surface or bounding along over it. I have been told of serious damage being done to a gunner's dory where one of these heavy birds had fallen into it. A 15-pound bird flying at the rate of a mile a minute might be expected to cause some trouble under the circumstances. The flight of a loon is decidedly distinctive; such a rakish craft, long and pointed at both ends, could not be mistaken for anything else. The great northern diver can be distinguished from the red-throated loon by its heavier build, and, if near enough, the adult bird can be recognized by its black head and neck.

I have never seen a loon fly, except when alighting, with anything but perfectly steady and rapid wing beats, but the Hon. R. Magoon Barnes (1897) relates an experience which is an exception to this rule. On the Illinois River, during the spring migration, he saw a loon "making great circles in the air, flapping its wings and then sailing." It circled round and round and round, very much after the fashion of a bald eagle; rising spirally higher and higher, continuing the flapping of its wings, and the sailing movements until it reached a great altitude. Finally after it had raised in the air until it appeared but little larger than a blackbird, it straightened out its wings, and pointing its long neck toward the North Pole sailed with great rapidity." With wings set "it seemed to coast or slide down hill, as it were, toward the north." He watched the bird as far as he could trace it, but "could see no movement of the wings," though it "seemed to be traveling at a tremendous rate."

A loon requires nearly as much space to alight in the water as to rise from it, and creates quite as much commotion at the finish of its flight as at the beginning; its small wings are unable to check the momentum of its heavy body; it circles lower and lower until it can stand the shock of sliding into the water, striking it with a tremendous splash, plowing a long furrow and sending the spray flying. It is not a graceful performance, but it is full of force and power.

The loon is a rapid swimmer and a wonderful diver. It is much more at home in the water than elsewhere. Its plunge beneath the surface is exceedingly quick and graceful, causing little disturbance; with wings closely folded, it is propelled by its powerful paddles alone, which usually work alternately, driving it at a high speed. The loon can swim for a long distance under water and always prefers to escape in this way. While endeavoring to escape in this way it often swims with only its bill protruding, which is nearly invisible and after a brief breathing spell it is fortified for another long swim below the surface. When wishing to indulge in an unusual burst of speed, it uses both wings and feet with marvelous effect, but ordinarily I believe that the wings are not used. It is certainly capable of catching fish without making this extra effort. Its diving ability in dodging at the flash of a gun is well known. I once saw a remarkable exhibition of this power by a loon which was surrounded by gunners in a small cove on the Taunton River. There were six or eight men, armed with breech loading guns on both sides of the cove and on a railroad bridge across it, all within short range. I should not dare to say for how long a time the loon succeeded in dodging their well-directed shots, or how many cartridges were wasted before the poor bird succumbed from sheer exhaustion; but it was an almost incredible record.

The behavior of loons under certain circumstances shows peculiar traits of character; playfulness and curiosity are both highly developed. Rev. M. B. Townsend contributes the following sketch of their sunrise greeting:

A beautiful sight was that of three loons facing the rising sun, standing almost erect on the water, their great wings vigorously flapping, the sun shining full upon their pure white breasts. It seemed almost like an act of religious devotion in honor of old Phoebus.

Dr. P. L. Hatch (1892) relates the following account of another early morning performance:

It has been my privilege to witness some scenes of their matutinal jollifications, which have always occurred at the earliest dawn, and have terminated with the advent of the sun. The night is spent in proximity to each other on the water, somewhat removed from the land. And in the earliest morning, notes of the parent male soon call out a response from the other members of the family, when they all draw near, and after cavorting around each other after the manner of graceful skaters for a brief time, they fall into line, side by side, and lifting their wings simultaneously, they start off in a foot race on the water like a line of school children, running with incredible speed a full quarter of a mile without lowering their wings or pausing an instant, wheel around in a short circle (in which some of them get a little behind) and retrace their course to the place of starting. This race, after but a moment's pause, is repeated over and over again, with unabated zest, until by some undiscoverable signal it ceases as suddenly as it began. Its termination is characterized by a subsequent general congratulation manifested by the medley of loon notes. This walking, or rather running, upon the face of the quiet lake waters is a marvel of pedal performance, so swiftly do the thin, sharp, legs move in the race, the wings being continuously held at about half extent. Soon after this is over, the male parent takes to wing to seek his food in some distant part of the same or some other lake, which is soon followed by the departure of the female in another direction, while the young swim away in various directions to seek their supplies nearer the place of nightly rendezvous.

Curiosity has cost many a loon his life, for it is an easy matter to toll one within gunshot range by remaining hidden, and waving some suspicious object. The loon cannot resist the impulse to investigate, unless it is an old bird which has learned by experience. A man partially concealed in grass or underbrush near the shore of a lake will sometimes serve to arouse the curiosity of some old loon who will call up a number of his companions to talk it over. They will then swim around in circles, gradually working in nearer. A sudden movement will cause them to dive like a flash or go scudding away; but they will swim up again, alternately advancing or retreating, until a shot from the man satisfies their curiosity.

I must let some abler pen than mine describe the vocal performances of this species, for it has a wonderful variety of notes, each of which probably has its special significance, and I feel wholly unable to do justice to the subject. Mr. Francis H. Allen writes to me:

The commonest notes, which are heard both by day and by night, are a weird maniacal laughter and a prolonged yodeling note which is much higher pitched in the middle than at the beginning or the end. This latter note is very loud and can be heard at a great distance.

Mr. William Lyman Underwood, who is an expert in imitating the notes of this loon, says that he recognizes four distinct calls: first, a short, cooing note, often heard when there are several loons together; second, a long drawn-out note, known among the guides as the night call; third, the laughing call, which is familiar to everybody who has ever been in a loon country; and fourth, another call which is not often heard, known among the guides as the storm call. This last is a very peculiar and weird performance which the guides regard as a sure sign of a coming storm. The notes of the loon can be closely imitated by the human voice, after a little practice--so closely that loons can be made to answer or can be called up; but the notes can be almost exactly reproduced on a little musical instrument known as an ocarina, or more commonly as a "sweet potato." Mr. Underwood says that these instruments are made in different keys and that the proper one for the loon call is D 5 1/2.

Mr. E. Howard Eaton (1910) gives the following good description of two of the loon's commonest notes:

The scream of the loon, uttered at evening, or on the approach of a storm, has to my ear, an unearthly and mournful tone resembling somewhat the distant howl of a wolf. It is a penetrating note, loud and weird, delivered with a prolonged rising inflection, dropping at the end, resembling the syllables "A-ooo-OO," or as is often written "O-O-ooh." Its laughter, however, is of a more pleasing quality, like the syllables "hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo," uttered in a peculiarly vibrating tremolo.

This loon also has a peculiar warning cry as a signal of danger to its young, which they promptly obey, also a different warning cry to its incubating mate.

Fall.--On the fall migration the young birds precede the adults by about three weeks, and they go much farther south. The principal flight is along the coast, where they are, at times, very common, flying with the scoters and generally crossing headlands or long capes. They usually fly high in the air, singly, or in small groups widely scattered, but I have often seen a large number in sight at one time. While anchored off the coast coot shooting on foggy mornings in October, I have listened with interest to the laughing calls of migrating loons, which were probably keeping touch with each other and with the coast line by this method of signaling in the fog. Sometimes they stop to rest and congregate in large numbers in the water, several miles off shore, in what we call "conventions," where we could hear, on a still morning, a constant murmur of their voices in soft conversational tones. It is a constant temptation to all gunners to shoot at passing loons, for they are swift, strong fliers and are very hard to stop; it is particularly exciting on a foggy morning when so many are heard and only an occasional fleeting glimpse is seen. There is no good excuse, however, for shooting them, as they are practically never used for food. They are exceedingly hard to kill, and it is well-nigh useless to chase a wounded loon. On the coast of Labrador loons are shot for food, and I can testify from experience that they are not bad eating, though I should not consider them to be in the game-bird class.

Winter.--Loons spend the winter on inland lakes and streams to some extent throughout their winter range, which extends as far north as they can find plenty of open water. As they require a large open space in which to rise from the water they are sometimes caught by the freezing of ponds, where they are either shot or starve to death. By far the greater number of them spend the winter on the seacoast, where they are usually seen singly or in small parties, but occasionally in large gatherings, which can hardly be called flocks, numbering from 40 to 100 birds, sometimes far out at sea. They are common on the coast of New England, swimming just outside the breakers off our beaches, where they are always conspicuous, standing up at full height to flap their wings or rolling over on their sides to preen their plumage, their white breasts glistening in the sunlight, as they swim around in a circle with one foot up in the air. In stormy or foggy weather they are often noisy. I believe that they usually sleep on the water, but when it is safe to do so they often come ashore to sleep. I have several times surprised one well up on a sandy beach, where it had been spending the night or had gone ashore to dry and sand its plumage. Its attempts to regain the water were more precipitous than graceful, as it scrambled or stumbled down the beach, falling on its breast at every few yards, darting its head and neck about, humping its back and straining every muscle to make speed, at which it was surprisingly successful.

Common Loon* Gavia immer

*Original Source: Bent, Arthur Cleveland. 1919. Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 107: 47-60. United States Government Printing Office