Guide to ID’ing Loons by Their Color Bands

On the Loon Project, we list color band combinations in right leg, left leg order. Within a leg, the band listed first is the one “on top” or nearest the loon’s body; the band listed second is the one “on the bottom” or nearest the foot.

Here is a picture of all of the plastic color bands we use.

And here are some examples of how those bands look on loons’ legs. In the first row of photos below, you can see a diving adult that is banded “Y/P” (yellow over pink) on the right leg, a preening adult banded “S/Rs” (silver over red stripe) on left and a preening adult in winter plumage banded “O/Cc” (orange over copper cream) on left. On the bottom row are: a chick that is “S/Ar” (silver over auric red) on L, an adult taking off who is “Y/M,S/Rs” (yellow/mint,silver/red-stripe), and a foot-waggling adult who has “B/W” (blue over white) on the R leg.

PLEASE NOTE — We usually must know all four color bands on a loon — or see most of the number etched into the silver band — in order to identify the individual. So if you observe and make note of the color bands on a loon’s legs, try hard to get all four bands. (A few loons might be banded with fewer than four bands or might have lost one or two.) Don’t give up. If you did not record all four color bands, you probably can reobserve the same loon later — even days or weeks later — at or near the same location.