Gavia pacifica

DescriptionThe Pacific Loon are seen on a whale watching boat tour with Eagle Wing Tours in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada on Vancouver Island.

A small loon with a straight, slender bill and measures 24 inches (61 cm). In breeding plumage, the head is a pale gray; neck and back black with white stripes; throat black with purple reflections. In winter plumage, blackish above, white below; often shows thin “chin strap”.

Habitat

Breeds on lakes and ponds in tundra and northern forests; winters on coastal bays and inlets and on the ocean.

Nesting

Two spotted olive-brown eggs, usually in a slight depression lined with aquatic vegetation (sometimes on bare ground) at edge of water.

Range

Breeds from Alaska east to Hudson Bay, and south to northern British Columbia, Manitoba, and Ontario. Winters chiefly along Pacific Coast; very rare in north-eastern United States.

Voice

A harsh kok-kok-kok-kok; wailing notes on breeding grounds.

Similar Species

Red-throated loon in winter is paler, with less contrast between dark crown and hind-neck and white throat, and a seemingly upturned bill. Common loon is larger, with stouter bill.

Discussion

Until recently, they were thought to be a form of the Old World’s Arctic loon (Gavia arctica). The Pacific loon is well named, for nearly all of these birds winter along the Pacific Coast. In the east, it is the rarest and least known of the three loons found there. More social than other loons, this species frequently gathers in large flocks. On the northern breeding grounds adults often fly many miles between their nesting ponds and suitable feeding areas. It usually feeds closer to shore than other loons; its diet consists mainly of fish, but on the breeding grounds it also takes crustaceans.