Red-throated Loon

Hey guys, welcome back. Today’s bird is the red-throated loon. The smallest of North America’s loons, the red-throated loon is a winter resident of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, only coming inland in the US during migration, and then only visiting the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. They breed throughout northern Canada and Alaska as well as arctic regions of Eurasia. Adults of both sexes have a gray head with rusty red throat patch and a slightly mottled dark gray back.

Since they only visit the US in winter, I’ve actually never seen one with its trademark red throat. In their non-breeding plumage they have a white throat, like the one pictured in this post. They actually look a lot like wintering common loons but there are a few key differences. First is size. While this can be tricky if the bird is by itself, red-throated loons are smaller than common loons. They also have a smaller and more dainty looking bill that they nearly always hold pointed slightly upward.

My first one was in New York City’s East River off the shore of Randall’s Island. Since both common and red-throated loons are present in NYC in winter, I was able to get pretty good at winter ID of both. The one in this post was actually in Central Park. It was hanging out at the Harlem Meer at the north end of the park. It was a released rehabbed bird, but since they are so common in winter, there was no real debate about the bird “counting.” Instead, people (myself included) were just excited to get pretty close looks at a cool bird that’s usually fairly far away.

Unlike common loons, the red-throated loon does not need a long “runway” to take off from, and can actually take off from a standing position if need be. Also unlike other loons, they sometimes hunt from air, diving right into the water! Although they do show up in Lake Erie, I’ve yet to see one here. I’m confident that’ll change though. Next up is a bird typically only found in the southern US and Central and South America; the cattle egret. See you then!

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