CROW Case of the Week: Common Loon (#18-0985)

The common loon (Gavia immer) is a long-bodied water bird whose biggest distinction from its cousins – Pacific loon and red-throated loon – is its head color in the summer months. From April to September, the so-called great northern diver has a black head and bill to go along with their black-and-white spotted back and white breast. 

Common loons are best known to be songbirds of freshwater lakes in the northern wilderness. One can usually hear them on a calm night with only the buzz of insects providing background noise. The loon’s eerie call can echo across the water and awaken any tranquil moment. Interestingly, the common loon is a great underwater swimmer. Its solid bones cause them to be less buoyant, unlike other birds. Its quick descent is courtesy of an ability to blow air out of its lungs and flatten its feathers to remove air within its plumage. The loon’s heart actually slows down to conserve oxygen. 

At CROW, an adult common loon was admitted after being found floating onto Bunche Beach in Fort Myers. Reports said the finder noted that the bird had “signs of injury under its wing,” and clinic medical officials noticed the patient had two linear wounds in the left inguinal area that were crusted over and covered in a white scabby material during the initial exam. The loon also has a small laceration on its right hock and a scab on the medial aspect. 

“The loon came in with old looking, scabbed-over injuries. They extended into the muscle layer. When they were cleaned and dead skin removed, the underlying tissue was healthy,” said Dr. Malka Spektor, CROW veterinary intern. “There were two wounds at the inner thigh, one next to the other, in a line. The other wound was on the back side of the same leg, and it was the same size as the other two, in the same linear configuration.” X-rays did not indicate any fractures. 

The loon may have suffered an attack from a predator. “A possible cause is a bite wound, with each wound being a tooth mark, since they are on the upper and underside of the leg,” said Dr. Spektor. “It could also be wounds from rocks or shells when the loon beached itself, however we cannot be one hundred percent certain of the cause.”

The patient was provided pain medication and the wounds at the left inguinal area were cleaned surgically down to healthy tissue and sutured closed. The right hock was flushed and honey bandaged. 

“The honey was used the first day as an antimicrobial dressing on the wounds while the patient was too unstable to anesthetize for full wound care,” said Dr. Spektor. “Once the loon stabilized, we were able to anesthetize it, and clean, debride and suture the wounds closed.”

After a week of care and healing at the clinic, the patient was ready to begin rehabilitation in anticipation of a release. All signs look good for a return to the wild. 

“The injuries are looking good, and should mostly heal within a week or two,” said Dr. Spektor. “The loon was moved outside on Friday (4/13) to be able to build up strength in the water. When the patient is moving around well, the wounds have mostly healed, and it has put on some weight, it will be time for release.”


CROW Case of the Week stories are written by Bob Petcher and appear weekly in the Island Sun and River Weekly Newspapers.

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