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North Carolina Wildlife Species Information

Common Loon - Gavia immer

Common Loon Gavia immer

Identification Tips:

  • Length: 24 inches Wingspan: 58 inches
  • Sexes similar
  • Large diving bird with long body that rides low in the water
  • Large bill is straight, tapers to a point, and is held horizontally
  • Feet set far back on body, and trail behind body in flight
  • Upperwings wholly dark in flight

Adult alternate:

  • Black bill
  • Black head
  • Black neck with white markings
  • White chest and belly
  • Black back with white checkering and spotting

Adult basic:

  • Pale gray bill
  • Gray-brown cap, forehead, nape, hindneck and back
  • White face, eye ring, chin, throat, foreneck and belly
  • Jagged border between white foreneck and dark hindneck


  • Like basic-plumaged adult but often with paler bill and white scalloping on back

Similar species:

Cormorants have hooked bills. Western, Clark's and Red-necked Grebes have thinner bills marked with yellow and show white in the wings in flight. Red-throated Loon has a thinner, upturned bill that it carries above horizontal. In basic and immature plumages its back is spangled with white spots and its head and neck are pale gray, with a straighter line of division with the white foreneck. Pacific Loon has a shorter, thinner bill, a sharp line dividing the pale foreneck and dark hindneck and no white around the eye. The rare Yellow-billed Loon is similar in all plumages, but has a bill that is beveled upwards at the tip and a blockier head, and is entirely yellow beyond the gonys. In basic and immature plumages, the head and hindneck are paler with a darker spot to the auriculars, and back has more pattern.

Length and wingspan from: Robbins, C.S., Bruun, B., Zim, H.S., (1966). Birds of North America. New York: Western Publishing Company, Inc.

Above information used courtesy of United States Geological Survey.

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