Loon Adaptations: The Wing
Not Too Big and Not Too Small

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  • Flight feathers are light and airy, so they float. If loons had bigger wings, those feathers would make it hard to stay underwater. So the wings and flight feathers are as small as they can be and still support a heavy, flying bird.
  • Wings usually stay folded while swimming, but sometimes loons open the wings slightly to help steer.
  • The wings are so small that if they were missing more than just one flight feather, they could not support the loon's weight. They need to be replaced every year, but after an old feather drops out, while the new one is growing in loons just can't fly. So they molt all their flying feathers at the same time, and grow new ones back quickly. And their molt is timed for when they are on the world's biggest source of food, the ocean. They can survive weeks without flying because they can move to better fishing areas by swimming.
  • Their wings are a little wide and very pointed, allowing strong, fast flight.
  • The wings are connected to powerful and large breast muscles, powering that flight for long periods during migration.
  • The feathers are arranged to make a smooth, aerodynamic flying surface.
  • Wing tips are the place on the wings that passes through the most air. A dark pigment makes the flight feathers on the wing tips strong enough to last for a full year.

To learn more about how loon wings work, see our