great northern loon

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Common Loon - Gavia immer

The “Common Loon” isn’t exactly common anymore, at least in North America, and it’s more commonly called the “Great Northern Loon”.

Despite its superficial similarities to ducks, loons are not closely related to the family Anatidae. They’re members of the family Gaviidae, of which only 5 species are still extant.

Despite their agile water skills, and their exquisite diving form, loons are absolutely clunky and awkward on land, which gave them their name in English and the Scandinavian languages.Their nests are always constructed right near the water, because they can hardly walk without stumbling over their huge feet - a short hop out of the water is about all they can muster.

Images: Wikimedia Commons

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Great northern loon (Gavia immer)

The great northern loon is a large member of the loon, or diver, family of birds. The great northern loon breeds in North America, Greenland, Iceland, and Great Britain. This species winters on sea coasts or on large lakes of south Europe and the United States, and south to north-western areas of Africa. This species, like all divers, is a specialist fish-eater, catching its prey underwater, diving as deep as 60 m (200 ft) and can remain underwater for as long as 3 minutes. Great northern loon nests are usually placed on islands, where ground-based predators cannot normally access them. Its clumsiness on land is due to the legs being positioned at the rear of the body: this is ideal for diving but not well-suited for walking.

photo credits: Loon, Baby Loons!, wiki

So if you didn’t already know, loons are my favorite animal. Common Loons in particular. I mean, they are just beautiful and they mate for life and always come back to the same spot on the same lake every year. There’s a pair in my cove at the lake and they’ve been there since I was seven.  Plus they call to each other with this crazy haunting howl every night. They’re just so amazing and if you don’t think so we need to have a long, serious talk about your priorities in life.

And here’s a Great Northern Loon. Not necessarily my favorite bird, but I love the name. They are usually called Common Loons here, and Great Northern Divers across the pond, but some ornithologists came up with a compromise name for some fancy official bird list (the IOC World Bird List).

Birders love to make fun of this name, but it sounds like a pretty good description of me…