Plants and Animals

Gavia immer Common loon

species photo
species photo
species photo
species photo
species photo
species photo

Key Characteristics

The Common loon is a large, heavy-bodied bird, averaging 32 inches (81.3 cm) in length, with a wingspan of about 5 feet (1.5 m). In breeding plumage, its head and dagger-like bill are dark, its breast white, and its back is a distinctive black and white checkerboard pattern.

Status and Rank

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: T - Threatened (legally protected)
Global Rank: G5 - Secure
State Rank: S3 - Vulnerable


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Alcona 11 2019
Alger 35 2015
Allegan 1 1988
Alpena 5 2019
Antrim 6 2018
Baraga 21 2019
Barry 7 2019
Benzie 6 2018
Charlevoix 8 2018
Cheboygan 17 2019
Chippewa 21 2015
Clare 21 2019
Crawford 8 2019
Delta 5 2019
Dickinson 18 2019
Emmet 8 2019
Gladwin 6 2018
Gogebic 113 2019
Grand Traverse 25 2018
Houghton 9 2018
Iosco 9 2019
Iron 68 2019
Isabella 2 2018
Kalkaska 19 2018
Keweenaw 50 2011
Lake 17 2019
Leelanau 8 2018
Luce 10 2017
Mackinac 21 2006
Manistee 4 2011
Marquette 34 2018
Mason 3 2019
Mecosta 34 2019
Missaukee 7 2018
Montcalm 6 2018
Montmorency 25 2018
Newaygo 12 2018
Oakland 1 1952
Oceana 3 2012
Ogemaw 25 2018
Ontonagon 10 2018
Osceola 10 2019
Oscoda 8 2018
Otsego 17 2019
Presque Isle 17 2018
Roscommon 9 2018
Schoolcraft 43 2017
Wexford 6 2019

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


Typically, Common loons nest in sheltered islands on large, undeveloped inland lakes, although they may nest in lakes as small as 11 acres (4.5 hectares). Preferred nest sites are on small islands or bog mats, at the water’s edge. Nursery areas - quiet, shallow, sheltered coves - are important for rearing chicks.

Natural Community Types

  • Bog
  • Emergent marsh
  • Great lake, littoral, benthic
  • Great lake, littoral, midwater
  • Great lake, pelagic, benthic
  • Inland lake, pelagic, midwater

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

Loons are sensitive to human disturbance during the breeding season. Minimize maintenance activities within 1/4 mile of active nests during the breeding season. Nursery areas may be vulnerable also. Schedule construction, maintenance, or habitat management activities during the non-breeding season, from September through February. Application of herbicide to control aquatic vegetation should only be conducted outside the nesting season on lakes where loons nest, particularly on small lakes.

Active Period

Migration from second week of March to third week of May

Migration from third week of October to third week of December

Nesting from first week of May to fourth week of July

Survey Methods

Loons are easily surveyed by visually checking suitable habitat from shore or a boat throughout the day. Their presence may also be detected by their distinctive calls, which may be heard day or night.

Visual survey, listen for call

Survey Period: From first week of May to fourth week of July

Time of Day: Daytime

Time of Day: Night


Survey References

  • Bibby, C.J., N.D. Burgess, and D.A. Hill. 1992. Bird Census Techniques. Academic Press, New York.

Technical References

  • Evers, D.C. 1994. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife of Michigan. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. 412pp.
  • Sibley, D.A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Knopf, Toronto. 544pp.