How to Find Your Loon Valentine

National Loon Center
4 min readFeb 11, 2022


By Natasha Bartolotta, Communications and Outreach Coordinator

Just like us, the love lives of common loons are…complicated. Navigating the muddy waters of finding a mate is something all loons must tackle head on. But many loons do eventually find success and return to our lakes year after year to raise their young. Perhaps, those of us who haven’t found a Valentine yet can take the advice of the common loon:

  1. Take your time.

Common loons claim breeding territories from ages 4 to 8 with most settling at age 5 or later. Young male and female loons typically spend at least 2 years looking for a territory before settling. Many have said it before: you don’t want to settle for just anyone (or anywhere if you’re a loon).

2. Float around for a while.

“Floaters” are young, nonbreeding loons that intrude onto territories occupied by breeding loon pairs from the ages 2–8. Visiting many territories shows the floaters which locations have chicks and are thus, high quality nesting areas. Chances are, you may have to visit a pond or two before finding the right catch.

3. Challenge the competition.

Intruders often evict breeders from their nesting grounds in violent territorial battles (not actually recommended) that can even become fatal (definitely not recommended). Needless to say, this aggressive of a strategy may not work in our dating world, but how about trying some self-confidence to set yourself apart from others.

Two common loons face each other on a lake. The one on the left has its wings outstretched and its neck craned towards the loon on the right.
Photo by Karen Field

4. When you got it, fight for it.

Male loons, especially, are very protective of their territories as the males choose the nesting location and learn by trial and error which specific locations are safe from predators. Be just as tenacious as a loon to protect your Valentine’s heart.

5. Improve yourself over time.

The longer a male is in the same territory, the more his hatching success improves. And this doesn’t just happen over a few years, it improves over a period of at least 20 years! So, 20 years from now you should still be trying to impress your significant other.

A bar graph of “number of years on same territory” on the x-axis and “% of years with hatched eggs” on the y-axis for common loon males. The trend is increasing upwards.
Graph via the Loon Project

6. Pick a good one.

Ladies, we already know this. But for further evidence from the animal kingdom: female common loons will experience a boost in hatching success from the growing nesting experience of her mate. Females don’t necessarily experience a change in hatching success on their own when in a territory for 20 years.

A bar graph with “number of years on same territory” on the x-axis and “% of years with hatched eggs” on the y-axis for female common loons. There isn’t a significant trend increasing or decreasing.

7. If it doesn’t work out, try again.

If a loon is evicted from their territory by a competitor, they will retreat to another lake to recover before looking for a new territory and mate. A loon whose mate is evicted will quickly form a pair bond with the evictor. So no, common loons don’t mate for life! Perhaps, instead of saying “there’s always more fish in the sea,” we should say “there’s always more loons on the lake.”

8. Be willing to work together.

Both members of a loon pair cooperate in building the nest and spend equal time incubating the eggs. Males tend to incubate the nest during the day while females primarily cover the nighttime duty. I’m sure many of us have an ex-partner who sadly failed to be as cooperative as the loons.

9. Be in it for the long run.

A new analysis by Dr. Walter Piper shows that not only does a male’s growing territory knowledge increase hatching success, but the duration of the pair bond between a male and female gradually improves the hatching rate! There you have it, love only grows stronger over time.

bar graph showing “Years Pair Together on Territory” on the x-axis and “Probability of a successful hatch” on the y-axis. The trend gradually increases with some variation.
Graph via the Loon Project

10. Lend a helping hand (or wing).

Newly hatched chicks can swim immediately, but they often ride on their parent’s back to rest, conserve heat, and stay safe from predators. The chicks rely on their parents for food. One parent will stay on the water’s surface to protect the chicks while the other dives for food. So if you don’t have a romantic Valentine this year, maybe you can send some extra love to a family member or friend.

A common loon parent with a young chick sitting on its back while they float on the lake’s surface
Photo by Brandi Grahl

If you follow these steps you’ll be sure to find the loon of your life. If you’re still having trouble, maybe try walking into a bar and doing your best impression of a loon calling. You may not attract a partner, but you’ll certainly attract attention.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

A gif of two common loons with their heads facing each other and a red outline of a heart pops up on the image over them.



National Loon Center

The National Loon Center restores and protects loon breeding habitats, enhances responsible recreation, and catalyzes critical loon and freshwater research.