Bird GuideLoonsRed-throated Loon

At a Glance

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.
Duck-like Birds, Loons
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Open Ocean, Saltwater Wetlands, Tundra and Boreal Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Rapid Wingbeats

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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.


24-27" (61-69 cm). Thin bill is slightly upturned at tip and often held angled up. Looks plainer than other loons in summer, lacking white checkering (red on throat is hard to see). Quite pale in winter with extensive white on face (usually), smooth gray back (showing fine white dots at close range).
About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Gray, Red, White
Wing Shape
Narrow, Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape

Songs and Calls

Call, rarely sounded away from breeding grounds, is a series of high-pitched wails and shrieks.
Call Pattern
Falling, Rising
Call Type
Croak/Quack, Odd, Scream


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.



Usually 2, sometimes 1, rarely 3. Olive with blackish-brown spots. Incubation by both sexes (though female may do more), 24-29 days.


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.

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.


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Populations probably stable, but vulnerable to development in high arctic and to pollution in coastal wintering areas.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Red-throated Loon. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Red-throated Loon

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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