Common Loon

Associated Smithsonian Expert: Gary R. Graves, Ph.D.

Dr. Gary Graves had an early childhood fascination with birds that eventually led him to his role as curator of birds at the National Museum of Natural History.

Photo by Don Hurlburt, Smithsonian Institution

Dr. Gary Graves is a research zoologist and curator of birds at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History where his research focuses on the ecology, biogeography, and evolution of birds. His early childhood fascination with birds led to graduate studies at Louisiana State University and Florida State University: "I am unapologetically curious about natural history and the ways that natural history observations catalyze important ecological and evolutionary discoveries." His dissertation work focused on speciation of birds in the Andes Mountains of Peru. He has also conducted fieldwork in Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Colombia, Polynesia, Canada, and in more than half the states in the USA. His current research efforts are split between the analysis of complex data sets based on the collective resources of the World's great museums and conducting field research in Jamaica, the great forests of the eastern USA, and in the Sonoran Desert.

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This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws.

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Female Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata) nesting
Courtesy of Dave Menke, via, public domain

About Loons (Order Gaviiformes): Reproduction

When a loon is several years old, his readiness for mating shows in fancy, striped and patterned plumage. He sets up a territory on the edge of a lake and attracts a female by making yodeling sounds. Once a female responds, the male and female court each other by mewing softly and singing duets. If all goes well, they become a mated pair. The mated pair builds a nest of aquatic plants and mud on the water's edge. They defend their territory from other loons using a variety of aggressive calls (including toots, wails, and tremolos). The female typically lays two eggs, and both parents incubate them, taking turns. The chicks that hatch after about a month ride safely on their parents' backs around the lake. Until they mature, they peep and yelp for food and are rewarded with small fish, insects, and crayfish that the parents catch.