Many species show natal habitat preference induction (NHPI), a behavior in which young adults select habitats similar to those in which they were raised. However, we know little about how NHPI develops in natural systems. Here, we tested for NHPI in juvenile common loons (Gavia immer) that foraged on lakes in the vicinity of their natal lake after fledging. Juveniles visited lakes similar in pH to their natal lakes, and this significant effect persisted after controlling for spatial autocorrelation. On the other hand, juveniles showed no preference for foraging lakes of similar size to their natal one. When lakes were assigned to discrete classes based on size, depth, visibility, and trophic complexity, both juveniles from large lakes and small lakes preferred to visit large, trophically diverse lakes, which contained abundant food. Our results contrast with earlier findings, which show strict preference for lakes similar in size to the natal lake among young adults seeking to settle on a breeding lake. We suggest that NHPI is relaxed for juveniles, presumably because they select lakes that optimize short‐term survival and growth. By characterizing NHPI during a poorly studied life stage, this study illustrates that NHPI can take different forms at different life stages.