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Red-Throated Loon: Field Guide, Pictures, Habitat & Info

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Red Throated Loon

The red-throated loon is an aquatic bird found in the northern hemisphere. People in the United States call it a loon, while people in Britain and Ireland know it as a diver. Birdwatchers can find these birds on both the east and west coasts of America, so keep reading as we look at their habitat, behavior, diet, and more to help make it easier to spot one.

hummingbird divider Quick Facts About the Red-Throated Loon

Red Throated Loon

Habitat Lakes, ponds, oceans
Diet Fish, frogs, insects
Behavior Diver
Nesting Ground nest
Conservation Common
Scientific name Gavia stellata
Lifespan: 15–20 years

Red-Throated Loon General Description

The red-throated loon is the smallest but most widespread of all the loon varieties. It grows to 25–28 inches long, with a wingspan of 35–37 inches. It’s a little larger than a crow and has a grey-brown back and a grey belly. Its neck is also pale grey with a rusty patch. You will also notice black-and-white stripes on the back of the neck extending to the sides.

Red-Throated Loon Range, Habitat, Behavior, Diet & Nesting


The red-throated loon has a large range that extends throughout the northern hemisphere, and you can find these birds in North America, Canada, Europe, Asia, and Russia. They will usually overwinter in the ocean but are also comfortable in freshwater lakes and ponds and often visit them when they migrate.Habitat

The red-throated loon is an aquatic bird that will spend most of its time in the water, though it’s one of the only loons to be able to take off from land. It enjoys coastal waters, bays, and tundra lakes. It likes to breed in bigger lakes on the tundra and will tolerate shallower water than other loons.

Red Throated Loon


The red-throated loon is a diving bird that will submerge itself in water to hunt for food. It will also submerge itself except for the head if it becomes frightened. It likes to swim with its head underwater, looking for food before it dives. It moves through the water using its feet primarily, but it will use its wings when needed for extra speed or better control.


The red-throated loon primarily eats small fish but will also eat frogs, insects, and other small animals that it finds. It will also eat vegetation if food is scarce.


Red-throated loons frequently mate for life, and both sexes will help build and defend the nest. The nest will usually be just on shore or in shallow water, and they will usually reuse the nest each year if it’s in good shape. The female will lay one to three eggs, with two being the average. Both sexes will incubate the eggs for up to 29 days until they hatch. Then, both will carry the chicks on their backs and feed them for about 7 weeks.

eagle divider How to Find the Red-Throated Loon: Birdwatching Tips

What to Listen For

When circling water, they often make a series of sounds that you can learn to identify. Their sound is a rhythmic “kak-kak-kak” sound at the rate of five calls per second.

What to Look For

The best way to spot a red-throated loon in the United States is to take a boat several miles offshore where they like to feed. You can also spot the red-throated loon in Alaska during the breeding season, where they will get much closer to land.

Red Throated Loon

When to Look

If you are looking for the red-throated loon in Alaska, the best time to look is during the summer months when they are breeding. The rest of America will need to view the birds during the winter, after the breeding season ends.

Attracting the Red-Throated Loon to Your Backyard: Tips & Tricks

Unfortunately, the red-throated loon is a cold-weather aquatic bird, so it will not be possible to invite them to the average backyard. If you live in the northern part of the country near the coast and have a lake or small pond on your property, you might get lucky and have one visit, but it’s unlikely to be a common occurrence.

Red Throated Conservation: Is This Bird Threatened?

Fortunately, the red-throated loon is a common bird that’s not currently listed as threatened.

eagle divider

Final Thoughts

The red-throated loon is the smallest variety but has the largest range of all the loons. It’s strictly an aquatic bird, so it can be challenging for beginners to spot one. The best way to see one is to visit Alaska during the summer breeding season, when they are more likely to come close to land. You can also charter a boat to take you several miles offshore to their feeding spot during the winter on the east or west coasts of America.

Featured Image Credit: V Belov, Shutterstock

About the Author Ed Malaker

Ed Malaker is a veteran writer who contributes to a wide range of blogs covering information on computer programming, pets, birding, tools, fitness, guitars, and optics. Outside of writing, Ed is often found working in the garden or performing DIY projects in the house. Ed is also a musician, spending his time composing music for independent films or helping people repair their guitars.