Red-throated LoonGavia stellata

adult, breeding
Jari Peltomaki/VIREO
immature (1st year)
Herbert Clarke/VIREO
adult, nonbreeding
Richard Crossley/VIREO
adult, breeding
Arthur Morris/VIREO
Red-throated Loon

Family

Description

24-27" (61-69 cm). A small loon seldom seen far from salt water. In breeding plumage, has gray head and neck, rusty throat, black back spotted with white. In winter, similar to Common Loon but smaller, paler, with bill thinner and seemingly upturned.

Voice

Call, rarely sounded away from breeding grounds, is a series of high-pitched wails and shrieks.

Listen

courtship duet
mournful notes

Habitat

Coastal and tundra ponds during summer; large lakes, bays, estuaries, and ocean in migration and winter.

Range

Breeds in Aleutian Islands, Alaska, and Canadian Arctic south to British Columbia, northern Manitoba, and Newfoundland. Winters south along Pacific Coast to southern California and along Gulf Coast and both coasts of Florida. Also in northern Eurasia.

Discussion

The attractive breeding plumage of this loon is seldom seen in temperate latitudes, because the birds molt just before they depart for their nesting grounds. While not as social as Pacific Loons, wintering Red-throated Loons may gather in large numbers where food is abundant. They are common on salt water of all depths but frequently forage in shallow bays and estuaries rather than far out at sea. Because their legs are located so far back, loons have difficulty walking on land and are rarely found far from water. Most loons must paddle furiously across the surface of the water before becoming airborne, but the small Red-throated can practically spring directly into the air from land, a useful ability on its tundra breeding grounds. The birds are extremely vulnerable to oil pollution; many have been killed along both coasts as a result of recent oil spills.

Nesting

2 brownish-olive, usually spotted eggs in nest of aquatic vegetation floating in or beside water.

Similar Species

adult, breeding

Yellow-billed Loon

33-38" (84-97 cm). Breeding and winter similar to those of Common Loon, but bill ivory-yellow and seemingly upturned. In winter plumage, has more white on face; typically shows dark spot behind eyes.

adult, breeding

Arctic Loon

23-28" (58-73 cm). W. 43-51" (110-130 cm). Highly similar to Pacific Loon; until recently, the two were considered a single species.

adult, breeding

Common Loon

28-36" (71-91 cm). A large, heavy-bodied loon with a thick, pointed, usually black or dark gray bill held horizontally.

adult, breeding

Pacific Loon

24" (61 cm). A small loon with straight, slender bill. In breeding plumage, head pale gray; neck and back black with white stripes; throat black with purple reflections.

adult

Clark's Grebe

22-29" (56-74 cm). A large slender grebe with a long neck. Very similar to Western Grebe, but black of cap does not reach eyes, so face is largely white; bill bright yellow or orange-yellow.

adult, breeding

Western Grebe

22-29" (56-74 cm). A large slender grebe with a long neck. Blackish above with black of cap extending below eyes; white below and on front of neck. Bill long, slender, and greenish yellow.

adult, breeding

Red-necked Grebe

18-20" (46-51 cm). A slender bird and, in the East, the largest regularly occurring grebe. In breeding plumage, has rufous neck, black cap, whitish cheeks, and long, pointed yellowish bill.

Vireo

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