Red-throated Loon
Gavia stellata


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Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Gaviiformes
Family: Gaviidae
Physical Characteristics

About 25 inches (63 cm) long. Sharp, thin bill turned upward. During the summer, males and females are plain black with a grey head, striped nape, and a red throat patch. This changes in winter, when the back, head, and neck are paler while the red throat patch disappears (Peterson, 1990).


Gavia stellata is found along coastal waters, bays, estuaries, and, in winter, at tundra lakes (Peterson, 1990).

Geographic Range

This species is found primarily in North America from the Arctic coasts and islands from Alaska east to Greenland, south along the Pacific coast through the Aleutian Islands and east to central Yukon, southern Mackenzie, northern Saskatchewan, northern Manitoba, James Bay, and along the Atlantic coast to southeastern Quebec, Miquelon Island, and northern Newfoundland. Winters in North America along the Pacific coast south to northern Baja California and northwestern Sonora, and on the Atlantic coast south to Florida. It is also found in North America south through the Rocky Mountains to Colorado and New Mexico, and in the eastern states to Texas and the Gulf Coast (American Ornithologists' Union, 1983).


This carnivorous bird eats fish, crayfish, shrimp, leeches, and frogs (Perrins and Middleton, 1985). Aquatic insects and water plants are occasionally consumed.

Reproductive Characteristics

The nest is a bare scrape at the water's edge (Leahy, 1982). Two eggs are typically laid, occasionally one or three. They are oval-shaped medium to dark brown to olive with few to many blackish spots or blotches. The incubation period is 24-29 days. The chicks are capable of waddling upright. The chicks are fed by both parents even though they are able to peck at and eat small invertebrates, black flies, and a variety of aquatic insects. Weaning occurs between the 8th and 11th weeks (Perrins and Middleton, 1985).


The Red-throated Loon is also known as Red-throated Diver, Cape Drake, Cape Race, Cape Racer, Scapegrace, Little Loon, Sprat Loon, Pegging Awl Loon, Pepper-shinned Loon, and Tutchmunk. This Loon is capable of taking off from small ponds, unlike the Common Loon (Forbush and May, 1955). The average loon dive is approximately 1 minute though, if necessary, they may stay submerged for up to 3 minutes (Ligon, 1961). When flying, this bird emits a repeated kwuk and, while in the Arctic, falsetto wails (Peterson, 1990).

Literature Cited

American Ornithologists' Union. 1983. Check-list of North American birds, 6th ed. Allen Press, Lawrence, 877 pp.

Forbush, E. H., and J. B. May. 1955. A natural history of American birds of eastern and central North America. Bramhall House, New York, 552 pp.

Leahy, C. 1982. The birdwatcher's companion: an encyclopedic handbook of North American birdlife. Hill and Wang, New York, 917 pp.

Ligon, J.S. 1961. New Mexico birds and where to find them. The University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 360 pp.

Perrins, C. M., and A. L. A. Middleton, eds. 1985. The encyclopedia of birds. Equinox, Ltd., Oxford, 447 pp.

Peterson, R. T. 1990. A field guide to western birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 432 pp.

Mary Kirschenbaum, July 1996.


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