Photo: Steve Young/Vireo

Priority Bird

Yellow-billed Loon

Gavia adamsii

A big dagger-billed diving bird of wilderness waters. Closely related to Common Loon but even larger (the largest member of the family) and more northerly. Summers on high Arctic tundra, winters off wild northern shores, and occurs only in very small numbers south of Canada. Its great size, remote range, and general rarity give the Yellow-billed Loon an aura of mystery for many birders.
Conservation status World population has been estimated at under 10,000, with half of these in Alaska. Vulnerable to oil spills and other pollution in the Arctic, and to the effects of climate change.
Family Loons
Habitat Tundra lakes in summer; coastal waters in winter. Breeds in high Arctic tundra region, often on large lakes but also on smaller lakes if good feeding areas are nearby; may fly up to 5 miles from nest site to feeding areas on rivers, coastal lagoons. In winter on ocean, generally on bays, inlets, among island groups; rarely on large lakes in interior.
A big dagger-billed diving bird of wilderness waters. Closely related to Common Loon but even larger (the largest member of the family) and more northerly. Summers on high Arctic tundra, winters off wild northern shores, and occurs only in very small numbers south of Canada. Its great size, remote range, and general rarity give the Yellow-billed Loon an aura of mystery for many birders.
Photo Gallery
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

2. Brown or olive, spotted with blackish-brown. Incubation period 27-29 days; both parents incubate. Young: Leave nest 1-2 days after hatching. Adults very aggressive in defense of downy young. Young are fed by both parents, sometimes ride on parents' backs. Second chick of brood often disappears a few days after hatching. Age at first flight not known, probably about 12 weeks. One brood per year.


Young

Leave nest 1-2 days after hatching. Adults very aggressive in defense of downy young. Young are fed by both parents, sometimes ride on parents' backs. Second chick of brood often disappears a few days after hatching. Age at first flight not known, probably about 12 weeks. One brood per year.

Diet

Probably mostly fish. Diet not well known. Apparently feeds mainly on small to medium-sized fish, including sculpin, tomcod, rock cod; also crustaceans and mollusks, probably some insects in summer. Young may eat some plant material.


Nesting

May mate for life. In courtship displays, pairs dip bills in water repeatedly; splash-dive and swim past each other underwater. Nest: Male may select site, both sexes probably help build nest. Site is always very near water, on island or shore, and may be partly hidden by surrounding vegetation. Nest, often re-used from year to year, is a mound of tundra vegetation with depression at center; sometimes turf is overturned to form a mud foundation.

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

Migration

Most winter in limited area of southern Alaska and coastal British Columbia, but route between wintering and breeding areas unknown; may follow coast around Alaska rather than flying overland. In recent years, single birds (usually immature) have been found wintering on reservoirs and lakes in interior as far east as Illinois and Arkansas, as far south as Arizona and Texas.

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Migration

Most winter in limited area of southern Alaska and coastal British Columbia, but route between wintering and breeding areas unknown; may follow coast around Alaska rather than flying overland. In recent years, single birds (usually immature) have been found wintering on reservoirs and lakes in interior as far east as Illinois and Arkansas, as far south as Arizona and Texas.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Yodeling calls similar to those of Common Loon but louder and harsher; generally less vocal.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Yellow-billed Loon

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Yellow-billed 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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