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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

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

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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

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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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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