Daily Bird: Red-throated Loon
Edited from a version published in 2014
by Andy Griswold, EcoTravel Director
January 11, 2021 — Winter is the season for loons in Connecticut and the Red-throated, the smallest of its family, is a favorite. Common Loon, as its name indicates, is quite common, unlike the rare Pacific Loon, which makes few appearances, maybe one or two a year.
Winter months mean basic-plumaged birds, but this does not mean that Red-throated Loon is not a fine bird to entertain you as you visit the larger bodies of water in Connecticut. A large water bird but a small loon, Red-throats have a thin bill most often held in an upward angle of about 30 degrees, unlike the thicker, horizontally held bill of the Common Loon. When seen on the water, the bird’s long body slopes toward the rear and is noticeably more slim than Common Loon.
The overall coloration of Red-throats in winter is gray and white. If you find one in spring or summer (photo below), you will be in for a real treat of velvety gray on the head and a lovely maroon throat. In flight, look for a loon with wings angled back, quick wingbeats, and a “droop” in the neck. As with all loons, Red-throated Loon is a diver, pursuing its fishy prey beneath the surface.
Where to find it
The best place to find this high latitude nester in Connecticut is on Long Island Sound. Numbers are not as high at inland sites. Perhaps a record, after one “blows” along our shore, I counted over 175 Red-throated Loons passing Old Saybrook in the space of about an hour and 15 minutes.
How to find it
Through March, this should be a relatively easy bird to find along our coastline. Scan the waters on a calm day and look for the distinctive up-angled, thin beak of this low-sitting water bird. A spotting scope will enhance the experience and undoubtedly increase the number of individuals you find. Check eBird.
What if it isn’t there
Other birds in the area are many. Count on finding Common Loon, Horned Grebe, and numerous wintering ducks which could include Common Eider and Long-tailed Duck.
Some declines in numbers have been noted in Europe, Alaska, and other sites in North America, but the causes are not yet clearly understood. As with many water birds, threats can come from oil spills and habitat loss on nest sites, migration stopovers, and wintering grounds. Fishing nets have been known to inadvertently kill diving birds.