Have you ever gone kayaking in a serene lake? If so, then you might have encountered some black-and-white checkered waterbirds. They’re common loons. You might also have seen a few other look-alike birds from a distance but cannot recognize whether they’re common loons or not.
So, you need to know which birds look like common loons? Common loon look-alike birds are common mergansers, western grebes, Canada geese, double-crested cormorants, red-breasted mergansers, American coots, and several loon species, including yellow-billed loons, pacific loons, etc.
Do you want to know some cardinal and crow look-alike birds? We have recently published a couple of articles on these topics. Once you finish reading here, we suggest taking a look at the articles. You may find such birds that you’ve never witnessed before.
Now, let’s see the list of common loon look-alike birds below.
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05 Birds That Look Like Cardinals [Read more]
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Birds That Look Similar to Common Loons
#01. Common Merganser
Common mergansers, also known as goosanders in Europe, are large waterbirds available all over North America, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere. These birds are found in rivers and lakes of forest areas in Asia and Europe, as far south as the Swiss lakes.
- Common mergansers have mostly clean white bodies.
- They have dark green heads and black & white wings.
- Females have grey bodies and a short crest of longer head feathers.
- The bill and legs are brownish-red.
- Their eyes are black and rounded.
On average, common mergansers and common loons come in almost the same size (around 70 to 90 cm). They have similar kinds of heads and eyes. As a result, you might confuse a common merganser with a common loon from afar.
In terms of appearance, breeding common mergansers clear white plumage, but common loons have black-and-white checkered plumage. Common mergansers have a red bill and feet, while common loons have a black bill and feet. The head color is dark green in common mergansers, although common loons have an iridescent blackish head.
On the other hand, female common mergansers are sometimes mistaken for juvenile common loons. However, female common mergansers have slightly red bills, while juvenile common loons have grey or greyish-white bills. Besides, female common mergansers have reddish-brown crested heads, but juvenile common loons have grey heads.
#02. Western Grebe
Western grebes, also known as dabchicks, swan grebes, and swan-necked grebes, are waterbirds found in both saltwater and freshwater environments. These birds are available in California, the eastern half of the United States, Canada, and sometimes Mexico. They forage for various fish, aquatic worms, insects, and crustaceans.
- Western grebes are slightly black and white.
- They have a long neck and a sharp border between black upper and white cheek.
- They have a large, slender, yellow bill.
- The eyes are red, and the dark black cap surrounds the eyes.
- The head has puffy feathers, and the feet are dull yellow.
Western grebes are similar to juvenile common loons in appearance. Both birds have red eyes. In both cases, the head color is black. The most noticeable similarity is both waterbirds carry their chicks on their back after hatching.
In terms of appearance, western grebes are quite different from adult common loons. Western grebes have thin, long, yellow bills, while common loons have comparatively thick, short, black bills. Besides, the head feathers are smooth in common loons but puffy in western grebes.
#03. Canada Goose
Canada geese are large, wild birds native to the arctic and temperate regions of North America. These birds are readily available in the United Kingdom, Northern Europe, Eastern Asia, and Oceania. They usually stay in rivers, lakes, ponds, park lawns, and farm fields.
- Canada geese have a large, brown body.
- They have long, black necks with white cheek patches on their faces.
- They have black legs and large webbed feet.
- Their bills are flat and wide.
- The chest is tan or medium grey.
In appearance, Canada geese are pretty similar to juvenile or immature common loons. Both waterbirds have wide bills, looking the same from afar. Besides, male Canada geese look like female ones with almost no difference.
The most noticeable difference is that Canada geese have long, slender necks, but common loons have short, thicker necks. The heads of common loons are black, while Canada geese come with blackish heads with white cheek patches on their faces. Besides, the bills of Canada geese are wider and flatter than those of common loons.
#04. Double-Crested Cormorant
Double-crested cormorants are mainly found in central Canada and costs of the United States, particularly in western Alaska. These birds are usually available in rivers, large inland lakes, bays, and patches of flooded timber. They usually build their nests on the ground or high in trees.
- Double-crested cormorants have slender bodies with small heads.
- They have small tufts on the side of the head (sometimes, white tufts).
- They appear orange-yellow around the base of the bill and chin.
- They have thin, strongly hooked bills, long tails, and kinked necks.
- Their feet are blackish and heavy webbed.
Both double-crested cormorants and common loons are waterbirds. These birds have round eyes and blackish feet like common loons. In appearance, double-crested cormorants (although they’re bigger) look pretty similar to juvenile/immature common loons.
Double-crested cormorants have slender bodies with small heads, while common loons have larger bodies with shorter heads. The bills of common loons are long, black, and pointed, but the bills of double-crested cormorants are hooked, yellow with an orange patch.
#05. Yellow-Billed Loon
Yellow-billed loons, also known as white-billed divers, are the largest species of the loon family. These birds are native to the United States, Canada, and Russia. They primarily breed in the coasts of the Arctic Ocean, the northern Pacific Ocean, and northwestern Norway.
- Yellow-billed loons have stout bodies with long necks.
- They have pointed, light yellow bills.
- Breeding adults have black-and-white plumage with glossy purple on their heads.
- Non-breeding adults appear light brown.
- Their eyes are red and rounded.
Yellow-billed loons are quite similar to common loons. Both yellow-billed and common loons have black-and-white plumage in breeding seasons. These birds have red, rounded eyes and blackish feet. Besides, they feature black-and-white stripes on the throat and neck.
As the name suggests, yellow-billed loons have yellow bills. On the other hand, common loons have black bills. Since yellow-billed loons are the largest in the loon family, they’re bigger than pacific, arctic, red-throated, and common loons.
#06. Pacific Loon
Pacific loons breed in freshwater ponds in the Arctic, on tundra lakes, in coastal ocean waters and bays. These birds are available in the United States, Canada, Mexico, China, Japan, North Korea, and South Korea. They’re also found throughout western and northern Europe.
- Pacific loons have black-and-white checkered stripes on the back.
- They have thin, black bills and rounded, pale grey heads.
- They have long, pointed wings and short legs.
- Their eyes are red and rounded.
- Their black throats reflect purple.
Pacific loons resemble the same loon family, Gaviidae. They have red, rounded eyes like common loons. Besides, the black-and-white stripes on the back are clearly noticeable in both birds. These stripes are also found under the throats.
Pacific loons are notably smaller than common loons but slightly larger than red-throated loons. Their throats are larger than those of common loons. While common loons have longer, thicker bills, the bills of pacific loons are shorter and thinner.
#07. Red-Throated Loon
Red-throated loons, also known as red-throated divers in Europe, are found in the northern hemisphere. These birds breed in taiga and tundra lakes, along with coastal ocean waters in the Arctic. Like other loon species, they have different plumage in breeding and non-breeding seasons.
- Red-throated loons are black and white with white spots on the back.
- They have red throat patches with plain grey heads and necks.
- They have long, black, slightly raised, slender bills.
- Breeding adults have black-and-white stripes on the back.
- Their legs and feet are slightly blackish.
Red-throated loons and common loons come from the same loon family, Gaviidae. Both waterbirds have red eyes. On breeding seasons, red-throated loons look similar to common loons. In addition, both birds have slightly blackish legs and feet.
As the name suggests, red-throated loons have red throat patches. This is the most noticeable difference between a red-throated loon and a common loon. Besides that, red-throated loons have grey heads, while common loons have blackish heads. The bills of red-throated loons look thinner and longer than those of common loons.
#08. American Coot
American coots, also known as mud hens, are migratory birds found in most of North America. These birds are also available in the Pacific, Mexico, and as far south as Panama in winter. They usually stay in ponds, lake edges, roadside ditches, and saltwater inlets.
- American coots are dark-grey to black overall with bulky bodies.
- They have rounded heads, short wings, and tiny tails.
- They have sloping, bright-white bills topped with red.
- They have red eyes and a small red patch on the forehead.
- Their legs are yellow-green.
In appearance, American coots are blackish like common loons, although common loons are black and white. These birds also have red, rounded eyes. Like common loons, American coots have webbed feet. However, they have lobed scales on their lower legs and toes.
The most noticeable difference is that American coots don’t have white color on their plumage. Their bills are white, short, and sloping. The head feathers are slightly shaggy. You can see a small red patch on their foreheads. In addition, they have yellow-green legs.
#09. Red-Breasted Merganser
Red-breasted mergansers are beautiful diving ducks found in freshwater lakes, rivers, bays, estuaries, and marine waters. These birds breed in the boreal forest and the coast on brackish, saltwater, and fresh wetlands.
- Red-breasted mergansers have slender bodies with dark black backs.
- They have cinnamon chests with a white neckband.
- They have narrow, straight, red bills.
- They have a shaggy green head with a ragged crest.
- The breasts are dingy, smudged with reddish-brown.
Red-breasted mergansers have red, rounded eyes like common loons. These birds have a white neckband, but the neckbands of common loons are striped. Both birds live in the same territories year-round.
Red-breasted mergansers have ragged crests that you won’t find in common loons. These birds have green heads, while common loons have entirely black heads. Besides, red-breasted mergansers have bright orange bills, but common loons have dagger-like, black bills.
#10. Arctic Loon
Like other loon ducks, arctic loons breed in Alaska and the Arctic Ocean. These birds prefer taiga and tundra lakes. They’re found in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and most northern European countries near the Arctic Ocean.
- Arctic loons have black-and-white checkered stripes throughout the body.
- They have greenish-blue throats.
- They have thin, black bills and rounded heads.
- They have long, pointed wings and short legs.
- Their eyes are red and rounded.
Arctic loons are pretty similar to pacific and common loons, belonging to the same loon family, Gaviidae. These birds have red, rounded eyes like common loons. The bills of arctic loons are black. They also have black-and-white checkered stripes on the back.
While common loons have black throats with a striped white neckband, arctic loons have greenish-blue throats. Besides, common loons have thoroughly black-color heads, but arctic loons have slightly greyish heads.
Now that you know the birds that look like loons, you can identify them and their look-alike birds very easily, especially when you’re on a kayak in a serene lack. In appearance, western grebes and Canada geese look similar to juvenile/immature common loons.
However, yellow-billed loons, pacific loons, red-throated loons, red-breasted mergansers, and arctic loons are quite confusing with common loons. You need to learn their characteristics, similarities, and differences very well.