Photo: Jari Peltomaki/Vireo

Red-throated Loon

Gavia stellata

The smallest of its family, the Red-throated also breeds farther north than any other loon, reaching the northernmost coast of Greenland. It may nest at very small ponds, doing much of its feeding at larger lakes or coastal waters a few miles away. This species takes flight from the water more readily than other loons, often taking off without a running start; unlike the others, it is also able to take off from land.
Conservation status Populations probably stable, but vulnerable to development in high arctic and to pollution in coastal wintering areas.
Family Loons
Habitat Coastal waters, bays, estuaries; in summer, tundra lakes. Breeding habitat includes small ponds as well as larger lakes, mostly on tundra but sometimes within edge of northern forest. Mainly on ocean in winter (a few on large lakes); often in shallower water than other loons, as in protected bays, large estuaries.
The smallest of its family, the Red-throated also breeds farther north than any other loon, reaching the northernmost coast of Greenland. It may nest at very small ponds, doing much of its feeding at larger lakes or coastal waters a few miles away. This species takes flight from the water more readily than other loons, often taking off without a running start; unlike the others, it is also able to take off from land.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, breeding
  • immature (1st year)
  • adult, nonbreeding
  • adult, breeding
Feeding Behavior

Loons do their foraging by diving from the surface and swimming underwater. They often swim along the surface with their heads partly submerged, peering about underwater, watching for prey before they dive. They are propelled mainly by their feet, but may sometimes use their wings also when turning or in bursts of speed. Loons find their food by sight.


Eggs

Usually 2, sometimes 1, rarely 3. Olive with blackish-brown spots. Incubation by both sexes (though female may do more), 24-29 days. Young: Leave nest and take to water about 1 day after hatching. Both parents feed young, rarely carry young on their backs. Young can fly at about 7 weeks. 1 brood per year.


Young

Leave nest and take to water about 1 day after hatching. Both parents feed young, rarely carry young on their backs. Young can fly at about 7 weeks. 1 brood per year.

Diet

Mostly fish. Includes cod and herring on salt water, and trout, salmon, and char on fresh water. Also shrimps, crabs, snails, mussels, aquatic insects, leeches, and frogs. In early spring in high arctic, may feed on plant material also. Young are fed mainly insects and crustaceans for first few days.


Nesting

May mate for life. Courtship displays include both birds rapidly dipping bills in water, diving and swimming past each other, making fast rushes underwater. Both members of pair defend nesting territory against intruding loons. Nest: Site, often re-used from year to year, is on shore or in shallow water. Apparently both sexes help build nest. Nest is a heap of vegetation, or sometimes simple scrape on top of hummock; nest material may be added after incubation begins.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Usually migrates singly, sometimes in small groups. Generally migrates along coast, a mile or two offshore. Rarely seen on inland waters south of Canada except on Great Lakes, where large numbers may stop on migration.

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Migration

Usually migrates singly, sometimes in small groups. Generally migrates along coast, a mile or two offshore. Rarely seen on inland waters south of Canada except on Great Lakes, where large numbers may stop on migration.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Call, rarely sounded away from breeding grounds, is a series of high-pitched wails and shrieks.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Duck-like Birds Loons

Red-throated Loon

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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