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Red-throated Loon Identification

Red-throated Loon

Red-throated Loon  —  Length: 25 inches,  Wing span: 36 inches

The smallest of the world’s five loon species, the Red-throated Loon is a high-arctic breeder but winters along the east and west coasts of North America. Migration usually takes place in small groups and at a low elevation above the water or land. Red-throated Loons propel themselves underwater with their feet.

One-fourth or more of Red-throated Loons may fail to breed in a given year, often due to inclement weather at their northern breeding latitudes. Once nesting, storms can cause water or ice to destroy nests. Red-throated Loons have been known to live over 23 years in the wild.

The Red-throated Loon is a small loon with a thin bill that is often held up at a slight angle.

Juveniles resemble winter adults.

Breeding plumage:
-Sexes similar.
-Reddish coloration on the lower part of the throat.
-Gray head.
-Brownish upperparts.


Red-throated Loon

The red in the throat can be difficult to see when the bird is in flight or seen at a distance. Wing beats are strong and fast. Photograph © Glenn Bartley.

Red-throated Loon

Compare this loon in full breeding plumage with the molting loon below.  Photograph © Glenn Bartley.

Red-throated Loon

Molting adult. Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

Red-throated Loon

Winter birds have white throats and cheeks, and white markings on a dark back. The back is speckled with white. Adults in non-breeding plumage have white necks. Young birds have gray on the side of the neck. Greg Lavaty.

Loons are seldom seen on the ground. Note how far back on the body the feet are located. Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

Young Red-throated Loon. Greg Lavaty.

Red-throated Loon

Long, thin lines in flight. White belly and chest.  Photograph © Glenn Bartley.

Red-throated Loon

Loons are seldom seen on the ground. Note how far back on the body the feet are located. Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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