Red-Throated Loon

Gavia stellata

Image of a red throated loon, Gavia stellata, in the water.
Image by Bureau of Land Management Alaska on Flickr, public domain

Physical: The Red-throated Loon is a slender and streamlined diving bird, standing at about 25 to 27 inches in length with a wingspan stretching approximately 41 to 46 inches. In breeding attire, its name comes to life with a distinctive rusty-red throat patch, contrasting sharply with the light gray upperparts and white underbelly. Outside the breeding season, it dons a more muted, pale gray plumage. Its piercing eyes and dagger-like bill, tilted slightly upwards, give it a unique profile among loons.

Habitat: This loon prefers coastal waters, estuaries, and large lakes. While it breeds primarily in the Arctic tundras, it migrates to more temperate coastal waters during the winter months, making it a more frequent sight for many birdwatchers than other loon species.

Feeding: Adept divers, Red-throated Loons primarily hunt for fish, but they’re not picky eaters. They’ll go after whatever aquatic prey is available, which might include crustaceans or even aquatic insects. They’re known to dive deep and chase after their prey, using their sharp vision and quick reflexes to make the catch.

Breeding: Ground nesters by nature, these loons choose spots close to the water’s edge in well-concealed locations, typically surrounded by vegetation. The nest itself is a simple depression lined with bits of plant material. Once the eggs are laid, both parents take turns incubating them. When the chicks hatch, they are soon introduced to the water, where they’ll spend a significant portion of their early life.

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