The Life Cycle of the Common Loon

Baby Loon and Mommy Loon

Some frequently asked questions – and answers – about the Common Loon and their life cycle:

Do loons mate for life?
Loons are believed to mate for life, but more research is needed in this area.

Do loons have a courtship ritual?
Yes. Courtship consists mainly of head dipping and shallow dives. In spring, loons are frequently observed chasing each other across the surface of a lake. This is primarily territorial behavior, not courtship ritual.

What does a loon nest look like?
The nest consists of reeds, sticks, grasses and muddy vegetation from the bottom of lakes. This material is loosely formed in the shape of a mound, roughly 1.5 feet in diameter, with a slight hollow in the middle. Both the male and female participate in nest building which is completed by mid-May.

Where do loons construct their nests?
Because of their difficulty moving about the land, loons build nests within a few inches of water. When a nesting loon is disturbed, it slips off the nest and submerges to keep the location of its nest unknown.

How many eggs does a female lay?
Soon after construction of the nest, the female lays two eggs.

What size and color are loon eggs?
Loon eggs are roughly 3 1/2″ by 2 1/4″ in size with a thick shell and are olive green color speckled with brown spots.

How long do loons live?
The Common Loon may live twenty years or more.

How many loons are there in Wisconsin?
1995 statistics by Wisconsin’s LoonWatch Program estimated the loon population of Wisconsin to be about 3,017 loons! [Update:  In 2010, LoonWatch estimated the adult loon populations at approximately 4,000 and chick population at approximately 600].

[Image: Courtesy of Mike Crowley; available for sale at his website Life in the Northwoods]

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About the Author

Naomi K.Shapiro is an active member of Outdoor Writers Association of America and Wisconsin Outdoor Communicators. She lived for 15 years in Clam Lake, WI (permanent population of 140 not counting deer, bear and elk!) and writes regularly on issues involving business, the outdoors and tourism.


  1. Walter Piper says:


    Nice photos and pleasant layout…..but some information is outdated. Scientists have learned a good deal about loons in the past 20 years, which is not reflected here. For example: Loons do not mate for life….far from it! Also, the head-dipping described above is primarily seen when territory owners confront intruders, not between members of a pair. It is true that both sexes build the nest, but it is the male that selects the nest location, as we have learned from mapping nests and tracking identities of pair members as they change between years.

    Happy to provide more current information and documentation, if you are interested.

    Walter Piper

    • NWisconsin says:

      Hi Walter,
      Thanks for stopping by. You are right, we haven’t updated the loon information in a while and would love to post any contributions you want to make. Will send you a private email.

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