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Where Do Common Loons That Breed in New England Spend The Winter?

In northern New England, Common Loons nest and raise their young on inland lakes and ponds.  By late fall, when most of the lakes have started to freeze over, the majority of loons head for the East Coast although some do overwinter on open, inland, freshwater lakes.  Loons that migrate spend the winter in their new, drabber plumage off the Northeast coast where they apparently have no problem adapting to salt water and the change of diet which that entails. 

Predominantly fish-eaters, Common Loons favor yellow perch, pumpkin seed and bluegill in addition to other species of fish, crayfish and aquatic invertebrates.  In the winter they feed primarily on flounder and herring, as well as crustaceans.  Most of their food is consumed under water, but a large fish or crustacean, such as a crab (see photo) or an occasional lobster, is usually eaten after surfacing. One adaption that serves them well in the winter is a salt gland that excretes excess salt that they ingest while feeding in the ocean. 

Just as they have territories on their breeding lakes, many wintering loons return to the same area year after year, occupying a 6-12 square mile “home range” area for the duration of the winter. Common Loons typically stay close to shore and their large size makes them relatively easy to spot. (Thanks to Susan Holland for photo opportunity.)

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8 responses

  1. Did you go to the ocean for that shot Mary? At first I thought that was a crayfish, but now I think it’s a crab.

    January 7, 2022 at 7:32 am

    • Yes, Kathie. I was in South Portland, Maine over Christmas and near a bay that consistently had Common Loons present. The lure of marine waterfowl was strong!

      January 7, 2022 at 8:15 am

  2. Lee Attix

    Hello, Mary. As part of my ongoing training with volunteers I’m seeking your permission to use this photo of a wintering loon to teach observers about distinguishing adults in winter plumage from juveniles. Please confirm if this is okay.

    Thanks very much!

    Lee Attix Loon Conservation Associates 18 Merrymeeting Drive Portland, ME 04103 lcattix@gmail.com

    *Dedicated to the protection and welfare of loons and their lakes through collaboration, education, and the implementation of successful conservation actions.*

    On Fri, Jan 7, 2022 at 7:25 AM Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote:

    > Mary Holland posted: ” In northern New England, Common Loons nest and > raise their young on inland lakes and ponds. By late fall, when most of > the lakes have started to freeze over, the majority of loons head for the > East Coast although some do overwinter on open, inl” >

    January 7, 2022 at 8:52 am

    • Yes, by all means, Lee. This photo was taken off Willard Beach in South Portland last week!

      January 7, 2022 at 9:50 am

  3. Alice

    Hope you had a wonderful Christmas time with Sadie & Otis & Lily Piper. My son lives in SoPo…which bay are the Loons in…he’d love to see them & take photos….thank you!

    January 7, 2022 at 8:57 am

    • Thank you, Alice. They were just offshore at Willard Beach every day!

      January 7, 2022 at 9:50 am

      • Alice

        I’ll let him know…thanks, again!

        January 7, 2022 at 9:54 am

  4. Alice

    He wrote: “no kidding, that’s the beach I go to. That’s cool!” He went to SMU…so right ‘next door’

    January 7, 2022 at 10:54 am

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