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Pacific Loon

Gavia pacifica ORDER: GAVIIFORMES FAMILY: GAVIIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Pacific Loon is perhaps the most abundant loon in North America. It spends most of the year on the Pacific Ocean, returning to inland Arctic tundra lakes only for three months in summer to breed.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
22.8–29.1 in
58–74 cm
Wingspan
43.3–50.4 in
110–128 cm
Weight
35.3–88.2 oz
1000–2500 g
Other Names
  • Arctic Loon (before recognized as two species)
  • Plongeon du Pacifique (French)
  • (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The Pacific and Arctic loons are extremely similar and were formerly considered the same species. Where the two species meet in western Alaska and eastern Siberia, the Arctic Loon has a greenish patch on its throat. Arctic Loons from the rest of Eurasia have purplish throats similar to that of the Pacific Loon.
  • Pacific and Arctic loons in the waters off Japan in late winter forage cooperatively, swimming under and around schools of sand lance (a small fish) and concentrating them into an area about one meter in diameter. Japanese fishermen exploited this habit by fishing for sea bream that gathered to feed on the sand lance. With such assistance from the loons, the fishermen could earn a year's livelihood in February and March alone; as a result, the loons were worshipped as messengers from heaven. Now, this practice has ceased because of unexplained declines in loon populations, collapse of sea bream populations, and adoption of other fishing methods.
  • Like other loons, the Pacific Loon walks extremely awkwardly on land, and cannot take flight from land at all. It requires about 30-50 meters of open water to take flight, flapping and pattering across the surface.

Habitat


Lake/Pond

Breeds on freshwater tundra lakes. Rests on open ocean during migration. Winters on ocean waters near coast, and sometimes on bays or estuaries.

Food


Fish

Fish and aquatic invertebrates.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
1–2 eggs
Egg Description
Variable shades of buff, brown, and olive-green.
Condition at Hatching
Downy and active; leaves nest within one or two days.
Nest Description

Nest may be a simple depression in the ground with scant lining or a large, solid, well-formed bowl of grasses and aquatic plants, located immediately adjacent to water.

Nest Placement

Ground

Behavior


Surface Dive

Dives after prey, tracking it visually, and seizing it with bill.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Though it is abundant, the population status of Pacific Loon is not well understood. Spring migration counts in California showed a sharp decline between 1979 and 1996, but these numbers have not been substantiated by surveys of breeding birds.

Credits

  • Russell, R. W. 2002. Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica) and Arctic Loon (Gavia arctica). In The Birds of North America, No. 657 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Range Map Help

Pacific Loon Range Map
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