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Pacific Loon in breeding plumage at Malibu Lagoon

May 23, 2021

[Posted by Chuck Almdale, photos by Chris Tosdevin]

Chris Tosdevin found a Pacific Loon in full breeding (alternate) plumage sitting on the edge of Malibu Lagoon this morning (Sunday, 5-23-21). Loons have generally left by this time of year, and he wondered what May records I have for it.

I can’t recall seeing Pacific Loon in breeding plumage in SoCal before. I do have records for them in May, so they were probably at least well on their way into breeding plumage, but they offshore—distant, small, taking long dives for fish or disappearing frequently behind incoming waves. Hard to see, in other words. Certainly not conveniently sitting at the edge of the lagoon, looking out over the algae.

My ‘loon history’ is below. Only eight sightings in May. That’s out of 287 census dates since October 1979, including 24 dates in May.

The eight Pacific Loons previously sighted in May consisted of:
1- 5/24/15, 1 – 5/25/14, 5 – 5/23/10, 1 – 5/24/09.

This is a really stunning bird. I wish I’d seen it.

Loons have webbed feet and are wonderful swimmers, diving deeply. Their legs are far back on their bodies, relative to ducks. This makes them poorly balanced on land, and it is very difficult for them to walk. Their nests are always placed close to water. When they’re not nesting, they’re in the water, including when they sleep. If you see a loon on land away from its nesting grounds, and you rarely will, it may be sick or wounded.

The Pacific Loon’s scientific name is Gavia pacifica; Gavia began as Latin for “gull,” which was fine many centuries ago when just about anything on the water and not a duck might be called a gull and no one cared. The choice of Gavia for the loons was made in 1789 by Johann Reinhold Forster (1729-1798), who sailed with Captain Cook in 1772 in his circumnavigation of the world.

The name “Loon” is a corruption of Shetlandic loom, from Icelandic lomr, and from Danish or Swedish lom. They all mean “lame,” in reference to their awkward manner of walking on land. The British call them “Divers.”

The phrase “crazy as a loon” may refer to the similarity of its call to insane laughter, which you may sometimes hear issuing from the “loony bin.”

One Comment
  1. Joyce Waterman permalink
    May 23, 2021 6:30 pm

    Wow! Stunner!!


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