The Social Lives of Loons

In the summer and throughout the fall, loons are often observed congregating in social gatherings, consisting from a few individuals to dozens of birds (even 100 or more!). These social groups may serve to help with feeding, as there are many more eyes to look for fish and beaks to catch them.

Loons are really very social animals when they are not defending a territory or chicks. They gather together to feed, often doing a “circle dance,” in which the birds swim in a circle, taking turns peering and diving into the water. Vocalizations, primarily hoots, and ritualized displays such as bill dipping, wing rowing and wing flapping, are regularly observed during group feeding and on migration staging areas. 

During the summer, these groups generally consist of individuals that are single or did not successfully nest, but occasionally a bird with chicks will leave its mate to care for the young while it goes off to feed with its friends. Prior to migration, the size of these gatherings can increase to several dozen birds. Juvenile birds also gather together in social groups prior to migration.

In the winter, loon also group up in rafts of birds, usually within a mile of the coastline. One of the largest rafts observed was of 700+ loons in Batavia Bay, Louisiana, in the Gulf of Mexico (Dr. J. Paruk, pers.comm.)!