State Bird of Minnesota: The Common Loon

What is the State Bird of Minnesota? (And Why?)

The Common Loon. Here’s why…

What is the State Bird of Minnesota? 

The Minnesota state bird is none other than the common loon. The scientific name for this bird is Gavia immer, and it is a member of the diver family. 

The common loon is a migratory bird that can be found in North America, Europe, and Asia. It is known for its striking black and white plumage, distinctive red eyes, and haunting calls.

Why is the common loon the state bird for Minnesota?

The common loon was chosen as the state bird for Minnesota for several reasons. Firstly, it has a strong cultural significance in the state and is often associated with its many lakes and waterways. 

Secondly, the loon is admired for its natural beauty, striking black and white plumage, red eyes, and haunting calls. 

Lastly, the loon is known for its unique behaviors such as diving deep into the water and staying submerged for long periods of time, which makes it a fascinating bird to observe and study. 

Overall, the common loon is a true symbol of wilderness and conservation in Minnesota, making it a fitting choice for the state bird.

When did the common loon become the state bird for Minnesota?

The common loon became the state bird for Minnesota on April 14, 1961. This was when Governor Elmer L. Andersen signed a bill designating the common loon as the official state bird of Minnesota. 

The loon replaced the previously designated state bird, the eastern goldfinch, which had held the title since 1929. Since then, the common loon has become an important symbol of Minnesota’s natural beauty and cultural heritage.

What does the state bird of Minnesota look like?

Minnesota is home to many different types of birds, but none are quite as famous as the Common Loon. The Common Loon, also known as the Great Northern Diver, is a large, aquatic bird that is well-known for its distinctive call and striking appearance. 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at this unique bird, exploring everything from its behavior and habitat to its role in culture and popular folklore.


The Common Loon is a large bird, measuring up to 36 inches in length and weighing between 6 and 12 pounds. 

It has a distinctive appearance, with a black head and neck, a white breast, and a checkerboard pattern of black and white on its back. 

Its legs are set far back on its body, which helps it to swim underwater, and it has webbed feet that are perfectly adapted for life in the water.


Moult is the process of shedding and replacing feathers, which is essential for maintaining the health and flight of birds. 

The Common Loon undergoes two moults per year – a partial moult in the spring and a complete moult in the fall. 

During the partial moult, the bird replaces its flight feathers, while the complete moult involves the replacement of all feathers.


Recent research has uncovered fascinating insights into the genomics of the Common Loon. A study published in the journal BMC Genomics revealed that the Common Loon has a unique set of genes that help it adapt to its aquatic lifestyle. 

These genes are involved in areas such as salt and water balance, oxygen transport, and feather structure.

Distribution and Habitat

The Common Loon can be found across Canada, Alaska, and the northern United States, including Minnesota. 

It prefers to live near freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers, where it can easily hunt for fish, its primary food source. 

During the winter months, some Common Loons migrate to coastal areas, where they can find saltwater habitats.


The Common Loon is known for its distinctive call, which sounds like a haunting laugh or wail. This call is used to communicate with other loons and to establish territory. 

Common Loons are also known for their impressive diving abilities, which allow them to catch fish up to 200 feet below the surface of the water.


The Common Loon is a piscivorous bird, which means that it feeds primarily on fish. It catches its prey by diving underwater and using its powerful webbed feet to pursue and capture its target.


Breeding typically occurs in late May or early June, with the female laying one to two eggs in a nest made of vegetation on the shore of a lake. 

The male and female take turns incubating the eggs, which hatch after around 28 days.

Habitat Selection

Common Loons are highly selective when it comes to choosing their habitat. They prefer clear, freshwater lakes with good visibility, as this allows them to better spot fish while diving. 

They also tend to avoid lakes with a lot of human activity, as this can disrupt their nesting and feeding habits.


The Common Loon is famous for its haunting, eerie call, which is a hallmark of Minnesota’s lakes during the summer months. 

This call is used to communicate with other loons and to establish territory. Common Loons also make a variety of other vocalizations, including yodels, wails, and tremolos.

Longevity and Terminal Investment

Common Loons are long-lived birds, with an average lifespan of around 25 years. However, they face a number of threats in the wild, including habitat loss, pollution, and predation. As a result, many Common Loons engage in a strategy known as terminal investment. 

This involves putting more energy into breeding and reproduction as the bird ages, even though it may be less likely to survive long enough to raise its young. By investing more in reproduction in their later years, Common Loons increase the chances that their genes will be passed on to future generations.

Predators and Parasites

Common Loons face a number of threats from predators and parasites in the wild. Their eggs and young are vulnerable to predation by a range of animals, including raccoons, minks, and gulls. 

Adult loons may also be preyed upon by larger predators such as eagles, ospreys, and larger fish. In addition, Common Loons are vulnerable to a number of parasites, including lice, mites, and blood parasites.

Status and Conservation

Common Loons are considered to be a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, they face a number of threats from human activity, including habitat loss, pollution, and disturbance from boats and other recreational activities. 

As a result, a number of conservation efforts are underway to protect Common Loons and their habitats. 

These include efforts to reduce the use of lead fishing tackle, which can be toxic to loons and other wildlife, as well as efforts to reduce disturbance from human activity and to restore degraded habitat.

Threats to Status and Conservation

Common Loons face a number of threats to their status and conservation efforts. Here are a few of the most pressing:

Effects of Mercury and Acid Rain Pollution on Health

Mercury pollution is a major threat to Common Loons, as it can accumulate in their bodies and cause a range of health problems, including impaired reproduction and impaired behavior. 

Acid rain, which is caused by emissions of sulfur and nitrogen compounds from human activity, can also contribute to mercury deposition in aquatic ecosystems, further increasing the risk of mercury exposure for Common Loons and other wildlife.

Mercury Deposition in the Adirondack Mountains

The Adirondack Mountains in New York are home to a significant population of Common Loons. Unfortunately, this region is also known for high levels of mercury deposition, which has been linked to a decline in the number of breeding pairs of loons in the area. Efforts are underway to reduce mercury emissions and deposition in the region in order to protect this iconic bird.

Breeding Range Decline

The breeding range of the Common Loon has been declining in recent years, likely due to a combination of factors including habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, and human disturbance. 

As a result, efforts are underway to protect and restore breeding habitat for Common Loons, as well as to reduce the impact of human activity on breeding areas.

In Culture

The Common Loon has played an important role in the culture and folklore of many different cultures throughout history. 

In North America, it has been the subject of many different stories and legends, and it is often associated with wilderness and the natural world.


The Common Loon has long been a subject of folklore and mythology in North America. In Native American cultures, the loon is often seen as a symbol of peace and tranquility, and its distinctive call is said to be the voice of the spirit world. 

Some Native American legends also portray the loon as a guardian of the underworld, capable of carrying souls between the worlds of the living and the dead.

Popular Culture

The Common Loon is also a popular subject in modern popular culture. It has been featured in a range of media, including literature, film, and music. 

One of the most famous examples of this is the novel “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London, in which a loon’s haunting cry serves as a metaphor for the wild and untamed beauty of the Alaskan wilderness.

In addition, the Common Loon is a popular subject for wildlife documentaries, and has been featured in many films and television shows over the years. It has also been the subject of numerous works of art, including paintings, sculptures, and photographs.

FAQs About Minnesota State Bird

If you’re curious about Common Loons and their unique behaviors and characteristics, check out the following frequently asked questions:

What bird is mistaken for a loon?

One bird that is often mistaken for the Common Loon is the Double-crested Cormorant, which is a similar size and shape and also dives for fish. 

However, Cormorants have a straighter, more slender bill and lack the distinctive coloring and markings of a loon.

What is special about loons?

Common Loons are known for their unique appearance and aquatic lifestyle. They have striking black and white plumage, a distinctive red eye, and a sharp, pointed bill. 

They are also excellent swimmers and divers, with dense bones that help them to stay submerged for long periods of time.

What is the call of the common loon?

The call of the Common Loon is one of the most distinctive and iconic sounds in the natural world. It is often described as a haunting wail, and it can carry for miles across a still lake or river. 

The call is actually a complex vocalization that is made up of multiple notes and harmonics, and it is used by loons for a variety of purposes, including territorial defense and communication.

Why are loons so loud?

Loons are loud for a variety of reasons, including territorial defense, communication, and mate selection. 

Their vocalizations are also an important part of their courtship displays, with males and females often engaging in synchronized calling and duetting as part of their bonding process.

What do loons do?

Common Loons spend much of their time on or near water, where they feed on fish, crustaceans, and other aquatic organisms. 

They are excellent swimmers and divers, and they can remain submerged for up to a minute or more as they search for prey. 

During the breeding season, loons build floating nests on the water and engage in complex courtship displays that involve vocalizations, diving, and head-tossing. 

Once the eggs are laid, both parents take turns incubating them and caring for the young, which are born with a fluffy down coat and are able to swim and dive within a few hours of hatching.

Final Thoughts About Minnesota State Bird

In conclusion, the Common Loon is a fascinating and iconic bird that holds a special place in the hearts of many Minnesotans. With its distinctive plumage, haunting calls, and aquatic lifestyle, it is a symbol of the state’s natural beauty and rich wildlife heritage.

However, like many species, loons face a range of threats from human activities, including pollution, habitat loss, and climate change.

It is up to us to work to protect these incredible birds and ensure that they continue to thrive in the years to come. 

Whether you’re a seasoned birder or just an admirer of nature’s wonders, there’s no denying that the Common Loon is one of Minnesota’s most beloved and iconic creatures.

Julian Goldie - Owner of

Julian Goldie

I'm a bird enthusiast and creator of Chipper Birds, a blog sharing my experience caring for birds. I've traveled the world bird watching and I'm committed to helping others with bird care. Contact me at [email protected] for assistance.