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5 Beautiful Loons in Canada (Pictures & Videos)

common loons the most widespread loons in Canada

5 Beautiful Loons in Canada (Pictures & Videos)

Have you spotted a beautiful Canadian loon but couldn’t tell what species it was?

There are five different loon species in Canada, and for many seasonal bird watchers, it may be hard to distinguish them from one another.

Examples of loons in Canada are the Red-throated Loon, the Yellow-billed Loon, the Black-throated Loon, the Pacific Loon, and the most distributed species – the Common Loon.

This article will help you learn more about each species and, most importantly, help you easily differentiate them.

Types of Loons in Canada

Red-throated Loons

red-throated loon swimming
Credit: Ómar Runólfsson CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons (edited)

As you may expect, red-throated loons are one of the most popular loons in Canada. They are so agile that they can easily take flight from land and water at any time. Also, unlike many other birds, they don’t need to patter on a water’s surface when planning a long takeoff. 

Colorations and Identifications: Red-throated loons are undoubtedly beautiful. They are large seabirds that look very similar to ducks. They have pointed legs and narrow, pointed wings to aid their flight. But if you look closely, you’d realize that their legs are far away from their torso. When flying, legs often dangle in the air, trailing its tail. These red-throated birds are significantly larger than singing birds and all other small birds, but smaller than a common loon.

One of the reasons why the red-throated loon looks unique is that they look different at several stages of their life. For example, the breeding adults have a long and slender bill. They also have a reddish patch on their throats, a grayish-brown color on their upper body, and a grey-colored head.

On the other hand, the non-breeding adults have a blackish color top and a white undertone. In addition to that, these birds also have predominantly white faces. Young red-throated loons have a greyish-brown color top and a slightly pale undertone.

Distribution and Habitat: Red-throated loons like to live and reproduce their offspring in wetlands, focusing on both lowlands and highlands.  They are medium-distance migrants, usually traveling solely or in small groups. When doing this, they typically travel no more than one mile offshore.

Nesting: Because they don’t need to patter the water before taking off, they can nest in tiny ponds and other bodies of water. In fact, many of them like to use small areas of water. You may be able to find them in larger lakes, but this is only when larger loons are missing from these lakes. 

Diet: As you may expect, fish is the most common food for red-throated loons. However, their diet also includes small insects, larvae, and aquatic plants.

Yellow-billed Loons

The yellow-billed loon is a unique bird with a mysterious aura. Many people in the bird-loving community have said that this loon species is perhaps the most difficult to fathom. With a world population of roughly 10,000, yellow-billed conversation status is near threatening.

Colorations and Identification: When you see the yellow-billed loon, you may notice something rather quickly; its large size. Many birders and professionals have said that yellow-billed loons are the largest loon species, even bigger than the common ones! It also has a sharp, pale yellow bill, which it uses to grab and hold on to prey.

On its back, you would see a pattern of small white dots, separated by its predominantly black color. This bird also has a large, black head and red, piercing eyes.

Distribution and Habitat: These birds are often referred to as wanderers, as they have been found distributed across more than 20 countries. These locations include places located far south, such as Mexico and Spain. Despite this, you can see that most of this bird’s world population is distributed across several lakes and other water bodies in Canada.

Nesting: The yellow-billed loon prefers to mate and nest with one partner for life. The males select the site to nest, and both sexes help to build this nest for their offspring. Their young almost always leave the nest shortly after hatching and learning how to fly. Before their young can defend themselves, the adult loons aggressively protect them from predators. In addition, yellow-billed loons are among the rarest breeding birds in entire North America. 

Diet: When a yellow-billed loon wants to feed, it does so by diving head first into the water when the time is right. Unsuspecting fishes, small crustaceans, and small insects are almost always swept up by the yellow-billed loon’s strong beak. If it’s in the water already, it will stay partly submerged with its head strategically lowered.

Read Also: Big Birds in California

Black-throated Loons

black-throated loon on nest
Credit: Åsa Berndtsson CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons (edited)

The black-throated loon has a graceful look that not many birds can match. Also called the arctic loon or black-throated diver, it is a monogamous bird that gains its independence within 2-3 months of hatching.

Sadly, this beautiful bird is fast becoming an endangered species. In order to prevent this, the black-throated loon is presently being protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and the agreement on the conservation of African Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds.

Colorations and Identification: Carl Linnaeus was this bird’s pioneer discoverer in 1758, and even he attested to this bird’s beauty. From its name, you can easily decipher that this bird has a large black patch on its throat. However, it may interest you that this black patch on its neck is absent during mating season. It measures about 2.2 feet in length and 4.4 to 8.8 pounds in weight. The bird is predominantly black with a grey head and hindneck. But perhaps the most beautiful thing about this bird is the white and black stripes on its back.

This lovely loon can be easily mistaken for a common loon or a yellow-billed loon, and science backs this. Scientists discovered that these three loons have very similar DNA structures. However, you can differentiate this loon from the others using its physical features, distribution behavior, and habitat location. For example, this bird’s flanks are white, as opposed to the predominantly black of the pacific loon.

Distribution and Habitat: You can commonly find black-throated loons in tundra lakes and other types of lakes during the summer. Alternatively, they can live in any available open water during this time. In the winter, they migrate toward oceans and salty water bodies.

Nesting: This rapidly migrating bird likes to breed and nest in the eastern and western parts of the Pacific Ocean and the northeastern part of the Atlantic Ocean. However, unlike many other birds, the black-throated loon species does not have a fixed mating period. It typically starts its breeding season in March or April. Sometimes though, this bird likes to wait until the spring thaw.

Diet: The black-throated loon is a diving bird that feeds mostly on small fish, but occasionally their diet includes mollusks, crustaceans, insects, and even plant matter. Interestingly, these dives have a high success rate (around 80%) but result in small items. That’s why the black-throated loons frequently dive when foraging. Young chicks are fed by their parents for up to 70 days, but they start catching their own food after approximately 36 days of life. 

Pacific Loons

The Pacific loon is one of the bird-loving community’s most famous Canadian loon species. These birds are commonly known for their dapper personalities and beautiful physical appearance. Their ubiquitous presence in Canada and North America significantly influences their popularity.

Coloration and Identification: Pacific loons are not that difficult to spot. If you want to find one, simply look for a loon that has a soft, grey head and a monochrome pattern on its back. This long-bodied waterbird has a thin, robust, pointed bill perfect for hunting. Many experts even say its beak is slightly stronger and slender compared to common loons.

Looking at its throat, you should see that it is easily one of the most beautiful necks a bird can have. Its throat is predominantly black and has a couple of white stripes down the sides. Sometimes, the chin and throat can exhibit a purple gloss.

Distribution and Habitat: You can commonly find Pacific loons distributed across multiple flat lowlands and foothills across Canada. They prefer to live, breed, and nest in ponds that can provide adequate space for landing and taking off. These lovely birds forage for food the most during breeding seasons, as this is the time to make new offspring. Similar to the common loons, the pacific loon loves to yodel or wail during the spring and summer. Sometimes, they even make small growl and barking noises.

Nesting: These loon species generally prefer to nest on low grounds near deep lakes. More often than not, Pacific loon’s nests are located in places of sparse vegetation. In addition, Pacific loons are social birds, often preferring to travel and migrate in relatively large populations during the winter. This flock of birds collectively looks for new directions to travel and gather. 

Diet: Pacific loons are primarily fish-eating animals, especially during winter. Their diet may vary with season and resident places, so they’ll also feed on insects and crustaceans given the opportunity.

Common Loons

common loon in the water

The common loons are undoubtedly the most popular loon species in Canada. Popularly called the great northern divers, they use their dagger-like bills to catch their prey in a flash. They’re so skillful at diving that they don’t make splashes when submerging themselves in the water. This may be surprising, but they are the most vocal species in the loon family. They love to wail, yodel, tremolo, and hoot.

Coloration and Identification: Spotting common loons is easy. All you have to do is look for loons with blackheads and bills, a white breast color, and a monochrome pattern on their backs during the summer. During the winter, the only change in its appearance is its back. Instead of the black and white print, it adopts a dark-grey color.

Distribution and Habitat: You can spot these loons in almost all parts of Canada during summer and spring. The only exceptions are the extreme northern and southern parts of Canada. Interestingly, they distribute themselves evenly across Canada’s fields, grassland, and prairies.

Diet: The common loon’s diet mainly consists of small fish, crustaceans, insects, larvae, and aquatic plants on occasion. In addition, these birds feed the most during their breeding seasons, which last from April to October.

Nesting: Common loons usually nest in quiet and hidden lakeshore spots. They are not such great walkers, so their nests are more often than not close to a bank. Furthermore, common loos are monogamous birds that nest in pairs for at least ten years. When it is time for migration, these birds prefer to travel alone; however, on rare occasions, some individuals like to group up during the trip. 

FAQ on Canadian Loons

in this section we are going to answer some of the most common questions about Canadian loons.

Where do Loons live In Canada?

The good news is that you can find loons in Canada almost everywhere. During the winter, these water birds love to live near freshwater habitats like Boreal lakes and open wetlands. At other times of the year, you may spot them in large lakes with clear water. In addition, you can also find several looms near bays, points, and islands.

What do Canadian loons do in the winter?

During the winter, Canadian loons migrate in order to live near salt water. These birds travel to the Pacific coastlines of North America. During the winter period, they keep relocating, looking for lakes with prey. They also carefully monitor the water’s temperature, anticipating their breeding season; spring.

Are Loons a Symbol of Canada?

The loons are very important to Canada for many reasons, so much so that they are on many of Canada’s official symbols. For example, the common loon can be found in a Canadian one-dollar coin. Furthermore, these ubiquitous birds are Ontario’s official provincial birds.


Loons are adorable water birds that people often mistake for ducks. The main differences are that ducks are about two times smaller than loons, have shorter bills, and sit higher in the water than loons.

Canada is home to several loon species that, at first glance, may appear pretty similar. Examples of loon species in Canada include the Red-throated Loon, the Yellow-billed Loon, the Black-throated Loon, the Pacific Loon, and the most widespread species, the Common Loon.

Hopefully, next time you get the chance to see these loons in person, you’d be able to tell apart each of them.

With this, we conclude the “Loons in Canada” article. Thank you for reading. If you liked this post, here’s another popular read: Gray Birds With White Bellies

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