Adaptations that Help Loons Survive

Every species is unique, even if it has close relatives. And every species lives only in certain places in the world. Some species, like pigeons, are generalists that can survive in many kinds of habitats eating a wide variety of food. Pigeons are found on every continent except Antarctica, and thrive in cities, farmland, and remote mountain wilderness. Other species, like the black-billed cuckoo, are specialists, living in a more restricted range with special dietary or habitat requirements. Black-billed cuckoos feed mostly on hairy caterpillars, especially tent and forest tent caterpillars. Their population rises and falls directly as a response to rising and falling caterpillar populations.

Common Loons are specialists in how they catch their food--in underwater chases. But they are generalists in the kinds of animals they catch. They feed on small fish, tadpoles, insects, crabs, and any other small critters they find.

An ornithologist seeing a loon for the first time could instantly guess that this bird eats mostly fish which it catches by diving under water and swallows whole, lives closer to either the North or South Pole than to the Equator, runs into the wind to take off in flight, and nests right at the water's edge. Dissecting a dead loon, an ornithologist could see that it spends at least part of its life on the ocean and migrates long distances. How? By understanding how bird bodies and behavior are adapted to habitat and food requirements.

In this lesson, we'll look at a loon's body from head to toe to see just how this bird is designed precisely for the kind of life it leads. Students will then engage in an activity to see what they'd need to add to their own bodies to live like loons.

Follow these links to learn about loon adaptations!

Head >>

Body >>

Wings >>

Activity: The Match Game
The most important part of a human body is the brain, which allows us to solve a lot of problems and adapt to a lot of different environments without changing our whole body. Let's think of some human inventions and how they could help us live like loons.

Human Inventions and Loon Adaptations!
Directions: Match the loon's needs with a human invention that allows us to do what loons do naturally. (Print student worksheet.)

Loon Need

Human Invention

1. See fish underwater A. Oxygen tank
2. Swim very fast to pursue fish B. Fishing pole and net
3. Produce loud territorial sounds C. Wetsuit
4. Catch fish D. Goggles
5. Stay underwater for over a minute E. Calendar
6. Fly long distances without resting F. Desalinization machinery
7. Migrate long distances without getting lost G. Compass and map
8. Keep warm and dry in bad weather and in icy water H. Bullhorn
9. Propel body forward in water I. Planes and trains
10. Eat saltwater fish and drink ocean water J. Oars or paddles
11. Know when it's time to migrate K. Motorboat