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Common Loons Migrating

Much has been learned about the fall migration of Common Loons in northern New England.  They are diurnal migrants, parents generally migrate first, young loons remain on the lakes where they were born or adjacent lakes until close to when the lakes freeze up, and the greatest number of fall migrating loons occurs in late October and the first half of November.

The very large loons in Maine, New Brunswick, and eastern New Hampshire do not migrate far and primarily over-winter in the Gulf of Maine, while smaller loons from other New England states and New York migrate to Long Island Sound south to New Jersey. Many loons migrate singly but group together on larger lakes referred to as staging areas. Overland migration altitudes range from a mile to a mile and a half, while over water loons often migrate within 300 feet of the surface.  One-and two-year old Common Loons remain throughout year on wintering sites. (Cornell’s Birds of North America)

(Photo of adult and juvenile Common Loons taken in early October, just as molting was beginning at the base of the adult’s bill. By December most adult loons have fully molted into their gray winter plumage.)

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7 responses

  1. Where do loons which inhabit coastal waters migrate to? We see many off our mid-coast island during summer months.

    November 13, 2019 at 7:33 am

    • Anne, my assumption is you’re seeing juvenile loons, which remain on the coast year round for their first two years (after migrating there their first fall). Adult common loons breed on fresh water lakes and ponds.

      November 13, 2019 at 8:37 pm

  2. I didn’t realize that loons from Maine, NH, and NB are larger than loons from other states! Better fish here maybe?😀

    I’m confused by the sentence “One-and two-year old Common Loons remain throughout year on wintering sites.” Does that mean the loons born on our lake this spring won’t return until they’re three years old?

    November 13, 2019 at 9:18 am

  3. Alice

    Migrating patterns are interesting. Teeny, fearless Hummingbirds migrate so far, Loons not so far.

    November 13, 2019 at 3:39 pm

  4. Rey Wells

    Hi Mary, very interesting. I did not know about the larger loons farther to the north and east. Here’s a shot of a suspected immature that I took this summer near Stowe, Vt. The interesting thing about this photo is the triple reflection of the eye on the water. I almost didn’t take it as I had already gotten good shots closer. But when it turned its head, and the early sun hit it, I had to shoot. I know that some sharpness will be lost in emailing. Sorry. Rey


    November 15, 2019 at 9:26 am

    • Hi Rey,
      Wordpress doesn’t allow others’ photos to come through. Any chance you could email yours to me at Thanks, I’d love to see them!

      November 15, 2019 at 9:49 am

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