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Aging a Common Loon Chick by its Plumage

This year’s Common Loon chicks are now roughly two months old.  Even without being aware of when it hatched, you can estimate the age of a chick by looking at its feathers.  Their color and type (down or contour) can give you a good idea of how many weeks old it is. Common Loon chicks are born covered with sooty-black down.  By the time they are three weeks old they have replaced this natal down with a second (gray-brown) down.  Juvenal feathers start appearing soon thereafter, replacing the down — the age of a chick can be estimated by the amount of down that remains.  By eight weeks of age the chicks have just small tufts of brown down remaining on their head and neck (see photo).  By nine weeks of age their entire body, including their head and neck, are covered with smooth, gray contour feathers and there is no sign of down.

6 responses

  1. Margo Nutt

    GREAT photo!
    When do their eyes change color?

    August 15, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    • Hi Margo,
      Great question! According to Cornell’s Birds of North America, the eyes of a Common Loon are cinnamon to walnut brown when they hatch, and they start to turn red during the loon’s first winter and spring. As adults, their iris is red October through February, and becomes blood red during the breeding period, March through August.

      August 15, 2012 at 12:54 pm

  2. Where’s the picture??????

    August 15, 2012 at 12:53 pm

  3. I finally got it, it’s wonderful!!!!

    August 15, 2012 at 12:55 pm

  4. Joy Taylor

    can someone please tell me —? do the grayish heads of the young eventually turn black ? and when does that happen?

    October 22, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    • Hi Joy,
      Common loons attain their full breeding plumage around the age of 2.

      October 22, 2012 at 2:37 pm

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