Red-throated Loon

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Red-throated Loon

Gavia stellata

The Red-throated Loon (scientifically named Gavia stellata) is the smallest of the three species of loons that breed in the Canadian Arctic. Like all other loons, they have difficulty walking on land as their legs are located far back on their body. The placement of the legs allows for excellent propulsion while diving and swimming underwater or paddling on the surface.

The Red-throated Loon is the only loon that can take off from land. All other loon species require a running-on-water take off.

Image: A Red-throated Loon.

3D View: Red-throated Loon
A close up of a Red-throated Loon sitting beside a pond.

Why this species is important

The Red-throated Loon has been identified as a key species for monitoring impacts of climate change. During their nesting season in Arctic wetlands, this species needs a large enough area that they are not competing with other loons for space, while needing to be closer to a larger body of saltwater where they can catch fish. The impact of climate warming is not certain, but some ponds will probably dry up, impacting the numbers of loons breeding.


Survival depends on growth

Red-throated Loon chicks are hatched at the edge of a small pond.  As they grow, young loons swim about and practice flying while it is still summer.  The speed at which the pond they swim in freezes is critical to its survival.

This infographic shows how young Red-throated Loons must develop enough to fly out of the pond before it freezes, otherwise they will not survive.

Birds in a pond, then flying away as the water freezes.  One bird expires.
Smaller ponds
Larger ponds

Loon qualities


The Red-throated Loon is a monogamous species, meaning that the male and female loon form a life-long bond, and share much of the responsibility for raising their young. Both sexes build a simple nest and feed their young. These loons mainly eat marine fish, especially Arctic cod, but may also feed on freshwater invertebrates.

The Red-throated Loon catches its fishy prey while swimming underwater in the Arctic Ocean, then flies back to the nest pond to feed its young.


Leaving the nest


The arrival time of two Red-Throated Loons to their breeding pond is critical for the survival of their young due to the short Arctic warm season. The timing of the young leaving the nest is even more important.

Red-throated Loons generally lay and hatch two eggs, with the eldest of the two chicks commonly receiving more food. If the second chick does not get enough food, its development is slowed and it may not be able to fly when the ponds begin to freeze in early winter. Trapped by ice, the chick must find its own food, and can only practice flapping its wings in place before flying to the ocean without a single practice run.


A red throat


Male and female Red-throated Loons are very similar in appearance, with the male being slightly larger than the female. During non-breeding seasons, this species is mainly gray in colour, while during breeding season the loon’s throat turns a deep red.