Common loon

Loon with multi-colored plumage, brown head, and bright red eyes floating in a pond
Latin name
Gavia immer
State status

Managing use of lead fishing tackle

Ingestion of small lead fishing tackle is the leading cause of known mortalities of the common loon, a sensitive species in Washington that is likely to become threatened or endangered without improved survival.

Managing the use of lead fishing tackle at the 13 lakes in Washington where loons breed and rear young is intended to improve loon survival by keeping loons from being poisoned by ingesting small lead fishing gear lost by anglers.

Restrictions on lead usage at those lakes were adopted by the Fish and Wildlife Commission in December 2010 and went into effect on May 1, 2011.

These rules prohibit the use of lead weights and jigs that measure an inch and a half or less along the longest axis at 12 lakes:

  • Ferry and Swan lakes in Ferry County
  • Calligan and Hancock lakes in King County
  • Bonaparte, Blue, and Lost lakes in Okanogan County
  • Big Meadow, South Skookum, and Yocum lakes in Pend Oreille County
  • Pierre Lake in Stevens County
  • Hozomeen Lake in Whatcom County

In addition, the commission banned the use of flies containing lead at Long Lake in Ferry County.

Information on lead-free alternatives, including manufacturers and retailers, is provided by LoonWatch.

Description and Range

Physical description

Common loons typically measure 66 to 91 cm (26 to 36 inches), with a 130-140 cm (50-55 inch) wingspan. They weigh 3,800 to 7,200 g (8.4 to 19 pounds). Males are larger than females and territorial individuals tend to be larger than those not on territories. Both male and female common loons bear black and white plumage during the breeding season. In winter, loons acquire a gray above, white below basic plumage. Subadult loons may remain in basic plumage year round.

Geographic range

Distribution and abundance

Common loons breed in freshwater habitats of northern North America, including much of Canada, Alaska, northern portions of the contiguous United States, and southern Greenland. They also breed in Iceland. The southern portion of its historical breeding range has contracted.

These birds spend winters on inland larger freshwater bodies and marine environments from Alaska to northern Mexico in the American west.

In Washington, breeding areas are freshwater lakes and reservoirs, mainly in remote areas of northeastern and northwestern parts of the state. Common loons spend the winter in almost all nearshore marine and larger freshwater bodies of western Washington. They are uncommon and irregular in winter in eastern Washington where they are found in large water bodies and Columbia Basin impoundments. The size of Washington's breeding population is unknown.


In winter and during migration, common loons use inland lakes and rivers and marine and estuarine coastal waters. Breeding habitat includes usually clear lakes containing both shallow and deep water areas. Nest sites are on small islands, quiet backwaters, or mainland shores. Loons have been found nesting in marshy portions of lakes in water depths no greater than 1.6 feet.

Optimal nest sites include overhead cover to conceal eggs from predators, protection from wind and waves, good visibility by incubating adults, and a steep slope adjacent to the nest for adequate underwater approaches and exits. Brood-rearing areas are typically located in shallow coves of fairly uniform depth, sheltered from prevailing winds and wave action, and are independent of nest site location.