Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Common Loon - Gavia immer
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General Comments The Common Loon is one of the best known waterbirds on the continent, known both to the layman and to bird fanatics. Interestingly, in North Carolina, it is often outnumbered in winter by the Red-throated Loon, at least on coastal waters. However, it is much more widespread than that species, found on the inshore ocean, most bays and estuaries, and on larger bodies of fresh water, both coastally and inland. One of the more notable features of its presence in the state is the visible overland migration during daylight hours, especially in spring, when observers can see several to a few dozen loons flying several hundred feet overhead, typically in a northerly direction.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S5N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident and transient. Along the entire coast, generally common, though less so along east-facing beaches (the Outer Banks north of Cape Hatteras) and along the southern New Hanover coast. Fairly common to common in Tidewater, but mostly uncommon on fresh water; rare to uncommon and somewhat local farther inland, at times more numerous in migration. Mostly mid-Oct to mid-May, but many records all summer near and along the coast. Peak counts: 8,000, Cape Hatteras point, 1 Feb 1998; 3,443, Wilmington CBC, 31 Dec 2016; 2,503, Morehead City, 21 Dec 1980.
Piedmont Winter resident and transient. In midwinter, mainly uncommon on larger reservoirs, and very rare to rare on ponds and smaller lakes. In migration, slightly more numerous, can be fairly common at times after nocturnal fallouts, but only for a few days at a time; generally uncommon. Mostly late Oct to early May, but many records for the rest of the year. Peak counts: 819, Falls Lake, 15 Nov 2018 (with 677 counted there on the day before); 300, Jordan Lake, 29 Nov 1982; 200, Lake Norman, 7 Nov 1999.
Mountains Winter visitor and transient. Rare in midwinter on larger lakes (in the southern mountains), mainly for brief periods, and rare to uncommon in migration; very rare at these seasons in the northern mountains. Mostly early Nov to mid-Dec, and in Mar-Apr. Peak counts, all at Lake Julian: 152, 15 Oct 2009; 144, 11 Apr 2003; 75, 4 Apr 1998.
Finding Tips The Common Loon is more widespread in coastal areas than is the Red-throated Loon, being found on the sounds and in estuaries. It is often outnumbered by the latter species on the ocean, yet the Common is the one found several miles offshore on winter pelagic trips! When looking for it inland, spend time at the larger reservoirs such as Lake Norman, Jordan Lake, Kerr Lake, and Falls Lake. The birds inland are more often seen in Nov and Mar-Apr than they are in midwinter.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-14], LeGrand[2019-04-19], LeGrand[2017-08-23]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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