Loons and Other Waterbirds: How Do You Tell Them Apart?
Other birds on lakes in summer may be mistaken for loons. One species that is often confused with a loon is the Common Merganser, but there are several field marks that distinguish them from loons.
Juvenile loons (chicks older than 8-weeks of age or 2nd year birds that occasionally summer on lakes) can be mistaken for a female common merganser.
Another diving, fish-eating bird that is sometimes mistaken for a loon is the Double-crested Cormorant. Cormorants have slender bodies with a long neck and hooked bill with an orange patch at the base. They are often seen standing on docks, rocks, or buoys with wings outstretched to dry.
Another waterbird that is sometimes confused with a loon is the Canada Goose. The long black neck, white cheek patch, and wide, flat bill are good distinguishing characteristics of geese.
BIRDS WITH CHICKS
Common Mergansers have up to 17 ducklings who are sometimes seen riding on the female's back, but they are lighter in color than loon chicks and have a reddish crown. Common Loons have 1-2 chicks. Loon chicks change in color from almost black to light brown to grey as they grow. Scroll to the bottom of the page to see the loon chick stages. Merganser broods can be reduced to 2 chicks or fewer due to predation.
Canada Geese have from 2-8 goslings that are yellow & brown when young (unlike loon chicks that are very dark) and they do not ride on a parent's back. In New Hampshire, they nest earlier than loons, so most Canada Goose chicks have already hatched by late spring. Young goslings are also susceptible to predation (like merganser ducklings), so a brood may be reduced to one or two chicks rather quickly.