PACIFIC LOON (Gavia pacifica) – (See images below)
DESCRIPTION: The Pacific Loon breeding adult head, nape and back neck are grey. Throat and front neck are black. Neck sides are black with fine white stripes. Back, wings and tails are black with white barring and spots. Breast is white with fine black streaks on the sides. Under parts are white, including underwings. Eyes are red. Bill is sharp and black. Legs and feet are . Non-breeding adult and juvenile have dark eyes and charcoal head and nape. Their back lacks white barring. Juvenile has a fine charcoal chin strap. Bird length is about 32 inches (65 cm).
VOICE: – The call of the loons has been described as ‘demented’ (origin of the ‘crazy as a loon’ idiom and the adjective ‘loony’, which means ‘crazy’ or ‘lunatic’), or a ‘lament’ (‘loon’ might be derived from Old Norse ‘lómr’ which means ‘lament’).
NAME: The English name ‘Loon’ comes from Shetland ‘loom’ and refers to the bird’s poor ability to walk on the ground, due to its legs being positioned at the back of its body, which helps for swimming though. The Latin ‘Gavia’ has a complicated origin, as it originally was the name of a duck species, the ‘smew’. However loons are not related to ducks, even if they have webbed feet, but the name remained nevertheless. ‘Pacific’ (and ‘pacifica’) refer to the range of this loon.
HABITAT: Tundra lakes in the summer; Pacific coast in winter, but more off-shore than the Red-throated Loon.
DIET: Fish, insects, crustaceans.
NESTING: Nest is built near water, on an island or on water. It is made of plant material held together with mud. An average of two brown eggs are laid, incubated by both parents, who also both feed the young.
DISTRIBUTION: Breeding range includes Arctic tundra in Canada from Hudson’s Bay and west, Alaska and northeast Siberia. Winters along both sides of the North Pacific coast, down to Baja California on the east side and to south Japan on the west side. Vagrants have been reported as far as Europe and Hawaii. (See note below for information on bird vagrancy.)
Distribution Map:
ON PEI: Does not breed on Prince Edward Island, sightings listed as ‘accidental’ so far. See note below on bird vagrancy.
CONSERVATION: Population not well assessed, but currently not listed as ‘at risk’.
NOTES: This loon is more social than other loon species, gathers in flocks during migration.
In Canada the dollar coin displays a Common Loon, and is thus called a ‘loonie’.
Vagrancy: In biology this means an animal going way outside its normal range. For birds, this can happen when there are storms and they get blown off course. On other times, the bird simply wanders in a different direction than usual. Here’s an article about vagrancy in birds.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Common Loon, Red-throated Loon
REFERENCES: (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency) (Hinterland Who’s Who) (Montana Field Guide) (University of Michigan) (Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas)

Pacific Loon – Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge – 1975 – USFWS
Pacific loon, USFWS AK 1975
Pacific Loon – Moss Landing harbor, CA – May 2009 – photo by Alan Vernon
Pacific loon, CA, by Alan Vernon
Pacific Loon – Sept. 2006 – photo by Tim Bowman, USFWS
Pacific loon, Tim Bowman, USFWS