September 1, 2014

Loon

Common Loon
(Gavia immer), known also as the Great Northern Diver, can be found throughout Maine’s waterways. Their mysterious and haunting cry is strongly associated with wild nature, since loons generally prefer habitats where human activity is minimal.

After wintering on the sea, loons show up on lakes as soon as the ice breaks up, although a few non-breeders remain on salt water. Adults and juveniles begin to leave the lakes about mid-September. There are migrations along the coast: north largely between mid-March and late April, and south between mid-September and late November.

Because of the far-aft position of the loon’s “propellers,” the bird is extremely awkward on land and cannot fly directly from the ground. It heads into the wind when taking off from the water, and its feet patter along the surface for some distance, as though it were running, before it becomes fully airborne. Once in the air its flight is strong, swift and direct. When seen in flight it has a “hunchback” appearance that provides a good field mark.

Loons feed almost whollyon fish they pursue and capture underwater. As a result of habitat loss and pollution, loon populations are thought to be declining. It is illegal under both federal and state regulations to kill, injure, or harass loons. When observing them never approach too closely.