A Common Loon eating a crab, non-breeding plumage.
Red-throated loons, non-breeding plumage.
Red-throated Loons, or Red-throated Divers are the most widely distributed of all the loon family. They are common on the cove where I live in the winter months. I saw five of them two days ago. I sat on the end of my pier for more than an hour to get these photographs. The sun was shining and it was just under 50 degrees. But, the wind kicked up coming off the water and it was COLD! Nonetheless, I had to sit very still for long enough that they forgot I was there. I looked like just part of the peir to them after a while. Each time I needed to move, to blow my nose or something, I had to wait until they dived. While they were under, I met my movement needs, being careful not to clunk on the deck. That would have vibrated down through the pilings into the water. Once, they resurfaced very close to me, so I could get these photographs.
Red-throated Loons are migratory. They breed and summer in the arctic circle. Monogamous, they form long term pair bonds which can last a couple of decades. That's a better marriage record than most humans I know! Both sexes build a mud and stick nest on the ground and care for the eggs and young. Though the Red-throated loon is the smallest of all the loons, their young are ready to hit the water in a couple of days. This differs from Common Loons whose babies ride on their backs for a few weeks. All loons are water birds only coming on land to build nests and lay eggs. The legs of the Red-throated loon are set so far back on its body that it can not walk on land. Like all loons, they dive for fish, mollusks, amphibians and crustaceans. Into the 1800's, the Red-throated loon was used to predict the weather. When the "Rain Goose" flew inland and it's cry was short, the weather would be good. When it flew out to sea with a long, wailing cry the weather would be bad. Loons are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and some international treaties as well. Nonetheless, their populations are declining in some places. They have natural predators, but it's thought that fishing nets, habitat destruction and oil spills are the biggest threats to loons.
Thanks to Wikipedia for this information. Click here for more information about loons.
- Barr, J. F., C. Eberl, and J. W. McIntyre. 2000. Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata). In The Birds of North America, No. 513 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.