South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Common Loon

Gavia immer

Length: 32 inches Wingspan: 54 inches Seasonality: Migrant
ID Keys: Distinctive summer plumage, note thick bill and pale areas around eyes on winter birds

Common Loon - Gavia immerThe loud cries of the Common Loon are famous.  However, they are only a migrant in South Dakota, and are generally silent as they pass through the state.   A bird in breeding plumage is shown to the right.  Other photos, including those of birds in winter plumage, can be accessed below.

Habitat: Large lakes, coastal waters.  Prefers large wooded lakes or tundra lakes in summer, winters on coastal waters.

Diet: Mostly fish, Also aquatic insects, aquatic plants, frogs, crustaceans, and leeches.

Behavior: Forages underwater, diving below the surface and using its feet to propel itself.  They will often partially submerge their heads in search of prey before actually diving.  Other than breeding pairs during the summer and loose nighttime flocks, Common Loons are often fairly solitary birds.

Nesting: Non-breeder in South Dakota.

Song: Common Loon Song

Migration:  Summers in Canada and extreme northern U.S., winters along North American coasts.

Similar Species: Resembles other loons in winter plumage, being most similar to the larger and more heavy-bodied Yellow-billed LoonRed-throated Loons and Pacific Loons are other Loon species that have also been sighted within South Dakota, and can pose identification problems in winter plumage.

Conservation Status: Some decrease in numbers in southern parts of summer range due to human disturbance, water quality decreases.  A good "indicator species", being quite sensitive to water quality.

South Dakota "Hotspot": The Missouri River below Oahe dam often holds Common Loons during migration.  Occasionally, nonbreeding birds can be found there in the summer as well.  Waters below other Missouri River reservoirs in the state are also good spots to find them during migration.

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Common Loon

2) eNature.com: Common Loon

3) Whatbird.com: Common Loon

Photo Information: June 2006 - Bald Lake, near Willow, Alaska - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Common Loon photos.

 

Click on the map below for higher-resolution views
Common Loon - Range map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon migrant throughout the state.  Occasionally nonbreeding birds are seen in the summer.