Great Northern Divers - Birds Sightings
Western Isles Birds - Great Northern Divers.

These lovely birds, Great Northern Divers - spectacular birds, which occasionally breed here in Northern Scotland, though mainly breed in Iceland. These divers can dive to a depth of 200 feet (60metres)

THese birds have a lovely chequered plumage during the breeding season. One of the largest divers, with only the White Billed Diver being larger
Great Northern Diver - Western Isles
Great Northern Divers - Western Isles
Bird Overview - Great Northern Divers
Latin name
Mergus merganser

Scarce Breeder
Winter Visitor
Similar Species
Black Throated Diver
Red THroated Diver
White Billed Diver


One of the largest of the diver, there is just the White billed diver that is larger.

This bird has a heavy almost dagger like bill, black or dark grey in colour and an angular head shape, often with a bump on its forehead. These birds have red eyes.

In winter plumage, the great northern diver has a brown back with paler brown edges to the feathers creating a wavy pattern across the back. The tail, back of the neck and crown are plain brown.

The throat, chin and cheeks are white. The belly and front of neck are also white. The beak is heavy and a sort of metallic pale grey. The legs and feet are short and black and the eye a deep red.

During breeding season - April - May - it has a chequered plumage, a black head, white below, checked black & white mantle, sexes similar

These birds live for up to 9 years

32 inches long, wingspan of 54 inches,
Weighs 3 - 4 kilos (6 1/2 - 8 3/4 lb)

The Great Northern Divers start to appear in the Western isles around August and leave to breed in early May, They like lakes, rivers and ponds as well as the sea. THey are quite often solitary or in pairs, just gathering in groups for migration.

When the birds land on water, they skim along on their bellies to slow down, rather than on their feet, as these are set too far back. The Great Northern Diver swims gracefully on the surface, dives as well as any flying bird, and flies competently for hundreds of kilometres in migration. It flies with its neck outstretched, Its flying speed is about 120 km/h (75 mph) during migration

The divers feed on large fish, crabs, other crustaceans amphibians, and bring flatfish to the surface after a dive.

A wolf like howl or wail and tremulous laughing notes in the summer, usually silent during the winter.


These divers nest on shallow scrapes on the waters edge, and have 2 eggs and one brood only - April to June.

These Great Northern Divers breed in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska, North America, Canada and very occasionally in Northern Scotland.

Both parents build the nest, sit on the egg or eggs, and feed the young. THe eggs are incubated for around 29 days.

Once hatched the chicks stay in the nest for a couple of days, but then they sometimes ride on their parents backs and as young as two days, they are able to make short dives!

The chicks are able to fly at 2 - 3 months, when they become independent. They are sexually mature at 2 - 3 years of age.

Misc. Info
These divers are known as "The common Loon" in North America, a name thought to have been derived from their far carrying and haunting call, although some say it is so named because of its clumsiness on land, which is die to its feet being so far back on its body to achieve propulsion under water.

These divers can dove as much as 200 feet (60m) and can sometimes stay submerged for several minutes.

Folk names include big loon, black-billed loon, call-up-a-storm, ember-goose, greenhead, guinea duck, imber diver, ring-necked loon, and walloon

Hawks, eagles and sea otters are all predators that like theses divers, and their eggs can fall prey to gulls, crows, ravens, even mink as well.

In Canada, the one dollar coin is known as a Loonie, because a picture of the Great Northern Diver (also known as the Common Loon in America) appears on it!

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