Monday, February 15, 2010

At the coast... Common Loon

Common LoonCommon Loon, Newport, Oregon on 19 April 2008 by Greg Gillson.


Loons are common migrant and winter waterbirds along the coast. The Common Loon is the largest of the three regular loons--Pacific and Red-throated Loons are the other two common Pacific NW loons.

In spring, such as the photo above, the loons attain their breeding plumage with black head and bill and spotted black-and-white plumage. In the non-breeding plumage (first year birds and winter adults) the plumage is pale brown and the bills become pale bluish or horn-colored with a dark upper ridge (not to be confused with the bright yellow bill of the rare Yellow-billed Loon).

In the Pacific NW this species only breeds with any regularity in British Columbia. There are a couple definite breeding records for the Pacific NW. There are annual reports of summering loons elsewhere in the Pacific NW, where breeding is suspected, but not confirmed.

However, Common Loons are fairly regular spring migrants (in small numbers) throughout large reservoirs in the interior of the Pacific NW. Hearing them yodel in the pre-dawn in spring is a familiar experience to early morning bird watchers. They can be quite common fall migrants in the large Cascade Lakes. They are found on the Columbia River from the ocean to Portland, and much less frequent upriver from there.

Loons have webbed feet, like ducks, but sharp dagger bills. They dive for fish, maneuvering with only their large webbed feet. The legs are set far back on the body. This makes them very ungainly on land, barely able to shuffle or push themselves along on their bellies. It also means they have to run on the water quite a distance to become airborne in flight.

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