Red-throated Loon

Gavia stellata

The smallest of the loons, the Red-throated Loon breeds at high latitudes in North America and Eurasia. It is distinctive among loons not only in size, but also in behavior, vocalizations, locomotion, and other aspects of life history.

Interesting Information

  • The Red-throated Loon, unlike other loons, does not need to patter on the water's surface on a long takeoff, but rather can take flight directly from land if necessary.

  • The Red-throated Loon is the only loon that regularly forages far from its breeding territory, returning from distant lakes or the sea with fish for the young.

  • Unlike other loons, the Red-throated Loon does not carry its young on its back.

  • Whereas only males of other loon species vocalize, both male and female Red-throated Loons make calls, often together.


Adult Description

  • Size: 53-69 cm (21-27 in)

  • Wingspan: 100-120 cm (39-47 in)

  • Weight: 1000-2700 g (35.3-95.31 ounces)

  • Large waterbird, small loon.

  • Thin bill, usually tilted slightly upward.

  • Long body slopes to rear.

  • Sits low on water.

  • Relatively slim proportions overall.

  • Dives under water.

  • Dark gray with a red throat in summer.

  • Pale gray and white in winter.

Sex Differences

Sexes look alike, male slightly larger.


Juvenile and first-winter Red-throated Loons have dull blackish-gray upperparts with white feather edges. Front of neck is mottled, not clear white as on adult. Dark of top of head may extend to include the eyes.

Breeding (Alternate) Plumage

Plain dark upperparts. Pale gray head and neck. Fine black-and-white stripes running vertically from rear crown to nape. Red throat. White chest and belly. Bill black with light stripe along top, and pale tip. Eyes red. Legs all dark, or dark on backs and pale on front.

Nonbreeding (Basic) Plumage

White face, with white extending above eyes. Mostly white neck, except for narrow vertical band of black on hindneck. Fine white dots scattered over black back. White underparts; often shows white flanks above surface while swimming. Bill blue-gray, with dark top edge. Eyes red. Legs dark on back and gray on front.

Photo taken from: The Sibley Field Guide by David Allen Sibley

© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Breeds in low tundra wetlands, bogs, and ponds in forests. In migration, flocks stage on large lakes. Winters in relatively shallow, sheltered marine habitat.


Pursues fish under water, grabs with bill.


Marine and freshwater fish.



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Gaviiformes
Family: Gaviidae
Genus: Gavia
Species: Gavia stellata

Similar Species

  • Cormorants have longer necks and blunt-tipped or slightly hooked bills and are not white on chest or throat.

  • Common Loon has thicker bill usually held horizontally, a darker face in winter with dark encompassing the eyes, and a faint pale collar on the neck.

  • Winter Pacific Loon has a mostly dark face without white behind the eye, and a distinct border between white and black on the neck. Pacific usually keeps its bill pointed horizontally, and has a barred, not spotted back.

Bird Sound

Calls include a simple wail covering a wide range of pitches, and a complex, unnerving "roll-growl."

Eggs look like this

Photo taken from: ARCTOS Collaborative Collection Management Solution