Loons are known as “spirits of the wilderness,” and it is fitting that Alaska has all five species of loons found in the world. Loons are an integral part of Alaska's wilderness—a living symbol of Alaska's clean water and high level of environmental quality. Loons, especially common loons, are most famous for their call. On the summer nesting grounds the common and yellow-billed varieties break into what sounds like yodeling or insane laughter, which gave rise to the expression “crazy as a loon.” Loons can be heard day and night when they perform their breeding displays, but they are generally quiet in winter. Loons spend most of their lives on the water, and can dive 240 feet or more to catch small fish; they also eat aquatic vegetation, insects, mollusks and frogs. It takes loons up to a quarter-mile worth of a running start to get airborne, but once they’re up, they’re strong flyers and can fly as fast as 60 miles per hour.
Where to find them
Common loons spend the summer on lakes all over the state, except in very northern and western Alaska tundra, where the yellow-billed nests. Commons winter along the southern coast from the Aleutian Islands south to Baja California. Yellow-billeds winter along the Southcentral and Inside Passage waters. Pacific loons have a wide summer distribution around the state and are the most common wintering loon on Southcentral and Inside Passage coasts. The red-throated loon breeds in coastal ponds and marshes around the state and spends the winter along the Pacific coast from the Aleutian Islands to Baja.
When to come
Depending on the variety, loons can be seen in Alaska all year long.