Red-throated Loon

Gavia stellata
A Red-throated Loon specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

Somewhat smaller (25 inches) and paler than the Common Loon (Gavia immer), the Red-throated Loon in summer is most easily identified by its gray head, dark bill, dark back, and conspicuous red throat patch. Winter Red-throated Loons are dark above and pale on the breast, throat, and head, slightly more so than winter Common Loons. Male and female Red-throated Loons are similar to one another in all seasons. The Red-throated Loon inhabits a large portion of Eurasia (where it is known as the Red-throated Diver) and North America. In the New World, this species breeds along the coasts of Canada and Alaska. Red-throated Loons breeding in North America spend the winter along the Pacific coast from southern Alaska south to Baja California and along the Atlantic Coast from Nova Scotia to northern Florida. In the Old World, this species breeds in Greenland, Iceland, northwestern Britain and Ireland, Scandinavia, and northern Russia, wintering south to the Mediterranean Sea and southern China. In summer, Red-throated Loons breed in lakes and ponds either on the tundra or in evergreen forests. During the winter, Red-throated Loons are found along the coast in near-shore waters and on large bays. On migration, this species may be found on large bodies of freshwater in the interior. Red-throated Loons primarily eat small fish, which they catch by diving. Due to the relative inaccessibility of their breeding grounds, most birdwatchers are more familiar with Red-throated Loons during the winter. At this time of year, Red-throated Loons are most easily observed out at sea through binoculars or spotting scopes, and may be seen floating low in the water, diving below the surface in pursuit of prey, or flying awkwardly close to the tops of the waves. This species is primarily active during the day.

DC Information

Fairly common migrant and winterer, usually restricted to bays and estuaries. Found in this region from late October to late May. The throat is reddish in breeding plumage; in winter it is whitish. Sexes are similar.

Specimen Information

The specimen on exhibit is in winter plumage.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC67258 Gavia stellata (Red-throated Loon)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC58569 Gavia stellata (Red-throated Loon)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC58571 Gavia stellata (Red-throated Loon)