Gavia stellata - (Pontoppidan, 1763)
Red-throated Loon
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Gavia stellata (Pontoppidan, 1763) (TSN 174474)
French Common Names: plongeon catmarin
Spanish Common Names: Colimbo Menor
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.106180
Element Code: ABNBA01010
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Birds - Other Birds
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Aves Gaviiformes Gaviidae Gavia
Genus Size: B - Very small genus (2-5 species)
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1998. Check-list of North American birds. Seventh edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C. [as modified by subsequent supplements and corrections published in The Auk]. Also available online: http://www.aou.org/.
Concept Reference Code: B98AOU01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Gavia stellata
Taxonomic Comments: This is a clearly distinct taxon at the species level.
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 07Apr2016
Global Status Last Changed: 20Nov1996
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Not globally threatened; still numerous though may be declining locally (Hoyo et al. 1992).
Nation: United States
National Status: N5B,N5N (05Jan1997)
Nation: Canada
National Status: N5B,N5N,N5M (26Jan2018)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alabama (SNA), Alaska (S4B,S4N), Arkansas (SNA), California (SNRN), Colorado (SNA), Connecticut (SNA), Delaware (SNA), Florida (SNRN), Georgia (S4), Illinois (SNA), Maine (S2S3N), Maryland (S3S4N), Massachusetts (S4N), Michigan (SNRN), Minnesota (SNRM), Mississippi (SNA), New Hampshire (SNA), New Jersey (S4N), New York (SNRN), North Carolina (S5N), Pennsylvania (SNA), Rhode Island (SNA), South Carolina (SNRN), Tennessee (S3N), Vermont (SNA), Virginia (SNRN), Washington (S3S4N), West Virginia (SNA), Wisconsin (SNA)
Canada Alberta (S1B), British Columbia (S4), Labrador (S3B,SUM), Manitoba (S2S3B), New Brunswick (S5M,S4N), Newfoundland Island (S4N,SUM), Northwest Territories (S4B), Nova Scotia (S4N), Nunavut (S4B,S4M), Ontario (S1N,S3B), Prince Edward Island (S4M), Quebec (S4B), Saskatchewan (S1B), Yukon Territory (S3B)

Other Statuses

IUCN Red List Category: LC - Least concern

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: >2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Breeding in North America occurs on Arctic coasts and islands from Alaska to Ellesmere Island, south along the Pacific coast through the Aleutian Islands to Queen Charlotte and Vancouver islands; inland to central Yukon, southern Mackenzie, northeastern Alberta, northern Saskatchewan, around Hudson Bay, and along the Atlantic coast to southeastern Quebec. In Eurasia, the breeding range extends from Greenland, Iceland, and Arctic islands and coasts south to the British Isles, southern Scandinavia, northern Russia, Lake Baikal, Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands, Kamchatka, and the Commander Islands (AOU 1998). During the nonbreeding season, the range in North America extends from the Aleutians south along the coast to northwestern Mexico; and from southern Newfoundland to northeastern Florida and the Gulf Coast; in Eurasia south to Mediterranean, Black, and Caspian seas, and along the western Pacific coast to China and Taiwan (AOU 1998).

Area of Occupancy: Unknown 4-km2 grid cells
Area of Occupancy Comments: Undetermined

Number of Occurrences: > 300
Number of Occurrences Comments: This species is represented by a large number of occurrences (subpopulations).

Population Size: 100,000 - 1,000,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Alaska: statewide estimate 10,000 individuals; Canada: 12,000 individuals (surveyed areas only); Russian estimate: 71,000 individuals. (AK Loon and Grebe Working Group Meeting 2002). Estimates in West Palearctic: 2,000 pairs in Finland; circa 1,200-1,500 pairs in Scotland; 1,000 pairs in Iceland; 1,000 pairs in Norway; 10,000 in British waters (Hoyo et al. 1992).

Based on Christmas Bird Counts in North America, areas of highest winter density are eastern North Carolina, the Delaware Bay area, and between Point Arena and Point Reyes on the west coast (Root 1988). Relative abundance highest in North Carolina (246.38 birds per 100 survey hours; Sauer et al. 1996). Global population estimate of 200,000 - 590,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2006).

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: Many to very many (41 to >125)
Viability/Integrity Comments: There are 51 Important Bird Areas (IBA) in 15 countries where this species has triggered IBA criteria (Birdlife International 2013).

Overall Threat Impact: Low
Overall Threat Impact Comments: PREDATION: Predation is major cause of nesting failure (Eberl and Picman 1993). Predators include arctic fox, wolf, glaucous gull, jaegers, snowy owl, and probably other carnivores and raptors.

FLOODING: Flooding of nests and desiccation of ponds leading to stranding, abandonment, or predation may be minor factors of nesting failure (Eberl and Picman 1993).

CONTAMINATION: Given the fish diet, this species may be susceptible to mercury contamination in areas with acidified lakes. Eggs in Sweden, for example, revealed extremely high mercury levels (6.2-14.2 parts per million, dry weight). Residues of chlorinated hydrocarbons and heavy metals also found in tissue samples of birds found dead in Germany, 1980 to 1984 (Heidmann et al. 1988). Red-throated loon also may suffer from decline in food (fish) abundance due to lake acidification in some areas (Eriksson 1994).

HUMAN DISTURBANCE: Substantial numbers may drown as a result of entanglement in fishing nets in winter range (see Johnsgard 1987). As many as 73 percent of nests suffered from human-related disturbance on Igloolik Island, Northwest Territories (Forbes et al. 1992). Red-throated loons are sensitive to human intrusion and may abandon disturbed breeding lakes (Forbes et al. 1992, Hoyo et al. 1992).

Additional hazards include lake eutrophication, water level fluctuations (McIntyre 1994), and oil spills, especially near foraging areas. At least 201 birds found oiled in coastal Britain in 1970s (Hoyo et al. 1992).

Short-term Trend: Decline of <30% to relatively stable
Short-term Trend Comments: Limited trend data are available; however, at least local declines are evident. Surveys during the Alaska-Yukon Waterfowl Breeding Population Survey, 1971-1993, showed a 53 percent decline (Groves et al. 1996). Christmas Bird Count data indicate a non-significant survey-wide decline (-1.4 percent annual change; n = 376), 1959-1988 (Sauer et al. 1996). Survey methods may not be adequate, however, to monitor birds such as this species. Data from Europe suggest a large local decline in southwest Sweden; number of breeding sites has been reduced by 50 percent during the last 40-50 years (Eriksson 1994). In the Shetland Islands, abundance declined by one-third since 1983. In the Orkneys, populations are apparently stable (Gibbons et al. 1997).

Long-term Trend: Decline of <50% to increase of <25%
Long-term Trend Comments: Overall population appears to be decreasing (Birdlife International 2013). Populations in areas where there were considerable declines (ca. 50%) attributed to lake acidifcation (Sweden) showed stabilizing following lake stabilization; populations in Finland showed similar declines until legal protection was inacted in the 1980s. See Barr et al. (2000). Breeding Bird Survey and/or Christmas Bird Count data show stable population trends in the last 40 years in North America (Birdlife International 2013; Butcher and Niven 2007).

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Moderately vulnerable to not intrinsically vulnerable.
Intrinsic Vulnerability Comments: Despite large circumpolar distribution and large population, the population trend overall seems to be decreasing (Birdlife International 2013).

Environmental Specificity: Narrow to moderate.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: Data on population trends in Canada are needed. This would serve to help interpret Alaskan data in a range-wide context (McCaffery 1998).

Distribution
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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Breeding in North America occurs on Arctic coasts and islands from Alaska to Ellesmere Island, south along the Pacific coast through the Aleutian Islands to Queen Charlotte and Vancouver islands; inland to central Yukon, southern Mackenzie, northeastern Alberta, northern Saskatchewan, around Hudson Bay, and along the Atlantic coast to southeastern Quebec. In Eurasia, the breeding range extends from Greenland, Iceland, and Arctic islands and coasts south to the British Isles, southern Scandinavia, northern Russia, Lake Baikal, Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands, Kamchatka, and the Commander Islands (AOU 1998). During the nonbreeding season, the range in North America extends from the Aleutians south along the coast to northwestern Mexico; and from southern Newfoundland to northeastern Florida and the Gulf Coast; in Eurasia south to Mediterranean, Black, and Caspian seas, and along the western Pacific coast to China and Taiwan (AOU 1998).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
NOTE: The maps for birds represent the breeding status by state and province. In some jurisdictions, the subnational statuses for common species have not been assessed and the status is shown as not-assessed (SNR). In some jurisdictions, the subnational status refers to the status as a non-breeder; these errors will be corrected in future versions of these maps. A species is not shown in a jurisdiction if it is not known to breed in the jurisdiction or if it occurs only accidentally or casually in the jurisdiction. Thus, the species may occur in a jurisdiction as a seasonal non-breeding resident or as a migratory transient but this will not be indicated on these maps. See other maps on this web site that depict the Western Hemisphere ranges of these species at all seasons of the year.
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AK, AL, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, IL, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MS, NC, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, SC, TN, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV
Canada AB, BC, LB, MB, NB, NF, NS, NT, NU, ON, PE, QC, SK, YT

Range Map
Note: Range depicted for New World only. The scale of the maps may cause narrow coastal ranges or ranges on small islands not to appear. Not all vagrant or small disjunct occurrences are depicted. For migratory birds, some individuals occur outside of the passage migrant range depicted. For information on how to obtain shapefiles of species ranges see our Species Mapping pages at www.natureserve.org/conservation-tools/data-maps-tools.

Range Map Compilers: NatureServe, 2002; WILDSPACETM 2002


U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
ID Bannock (16005), Benewah (16009), Bingham (16011), Fremont (16043), Jefferson (16051), Kootenai (16055), Owyhee (16073), Power (16077)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
17 Coeur D'alene Lake (17010303)+, St. Joe (17010304)+, Upper Spokane (17010305)+, Idaho Falls (17040201)+, Upper Henrys (17040202)+, American Falls (17040206)+, Portneuf (17040208)+, C. J. Idaho (17050101)+, Bruneau (17050102)+, Middle Snake-Succor (17050103)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: A bird (loon).
Diagnostic Characteristics: See Stallcup (1994) for information on identification of North American loons.
Reproduction Comments: Nesting begins late May in south, late June or early July in far north; eggs are laid from early May to mid-July in British Columbia (Douglas and Reimchen 1988). Both sexes (mainly female) incubate 1-2 (usually 2) eggs 24-31 days. Young are tended by both parents, fly at about 8 weeks. First breeds probably at 2-3 years (Johnsgard 1987). Nest density in Alaska and Canada ranges up to 1.65 per sq km (Johnson and Herter 1989).
Ecology Comments: Somewhat gregarious when not breeding (Oberholser 1974). Gulls, jaegers, and/or arctic fox may cause significant loss of eggs and young in some areas (Johnsgard 1987).

Defends nesting territories of variable size. Sometimes an single pond is defended (e.g. 1.1 ha in Shetland Islands, Furness 1983), sometimes multiple ponds (Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula, NWT, Dickson 1993), sometimes several pairs share a larger lake (e.g. 5 pairs on a 76-hectare lake on Bathurst Island, Barr et al. 2000). Home range larger than breeding territory; individuals fly up to 14-20 kilometers away from nest site to forage (summarized by Barr et al. 2000). Merrie (1978) suggested that each breeding pair requires 2.5 square kilometers of foraging waters.

Non-Migrant: N
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: Y
Mobility and Migration Comments: Arrives in nesting areas around Beaufort Sea usually in early June (Johnson and Herter 1989). Common migrant off U.S. west coast April-June. Returns to U.S. Atlantic coast mainly in October, off California shores by September-October (Terres 1980). Large numbers may pass through the Great Lakes region in October.
Marine Habitat(s): Near shore
Estuarine Habitat(s): Bay/sound, Lagoon, River mouth/tidal river
Riverine Habitat(s): BIG RIVER
Lacustrine Habitat(s): Deep water, Shallow water
Palustrine Habitat(s): HERBACEOUS WETLAND, Riparian
Habitat Comments: Ponds and lakes in coastal and alpine tundra, and coastal flats south of tundra (breeding); primarily bays, seacoasts and estuaries, less frequently on lakes and rivers (nonbreeding) (AOU 1983).

Nests on edges of lakes and ponds (typically small and shallow), usually on ground in shallow scrape or on mound of mud/plant material; or on hummock in shallow water. Nesting ponds average about 0.3-0.4 ha, may lack food source; 1-4 ponds/territory. In the Northwest Territories, most ponds used for nesting were 0.1-1.0 ha in surface area and 0.3-1.0 m deep; emergent vegetation covered an average of 17% of the pond surface area; over half of the ponds had >80% marshy shoreline; 68% of nests were along wet shorelines, 18% were on islands, and 10% were in shallow water offshore; nests tended to be in sites not exposed to wind-driven waves and were an average of 2 m from open water; most nests were platforms built with aquatic vegetative growth from the previous year (Dickson 1994). In the Northwest Territories, nests within 9 km of marine foraging areas had higher reproductive success than did nests farther away (Eberl and Picman 1993).

Adult Food Habits: Piscivore
Immature Food Habits: Piscivore
Food Comments: Diet mainly fishes; also eats shrimps, snails, aquatic insects and some aquatic plants. When feeding young, often leaves nesting area to obtain fishes from larger lake or marine waters (Reimchen and Douglas 1984). Forages in shallow water.
Adult Phenology: Crepuscular, Diurnal
Immature Phenology: Crepuscular, Diurnal
Phenology Comments: Activity may extend into twilight when adults feeding young (Reimchen and Douglas 1984).
Length: 64 centimeters
Weight: 1551 grams
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
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Management Summary
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Biological Research Needs: A world wide conservation effort and coordinated research is needed to find the causes of and remedies for the declining populations of red-throated loons (Barr, Eberl, and McIntyre 2000).
Population/Occurrence Delineation
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Group Name: Loons

Use Class: Breeding
Subtype(s): Foraging Area, Nest Site
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Evidence of historical breeding , or current and likely recurring breeding, at a given location, minimally a reliable observation of one or more breeding pairs in appropriate habitat. Be cautious about creating EOs for observations that may represent single breeding events outside the normal breeding distribution.
Mapping Guidance: Map multiple nesting territories on the same lake by enclosing them in a single polygon, using the shoreline of the lake as the boundary. The occurrence should include the parts of the lake used for courtship, nesting, brood rearing and feeding. Map nesting territories or foraging areas on multiple lakes or other water bodies with multiple polygons using the shorelines as the polygon boundaries. For one pair on a lake of less than 80 hectares, the boundary will usually be the entire lake shore.
Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Justification: Loons are large birds that often fly between lakes or, in many cases, to marine environments to feed. Red-throated Loons fly up to 14-20 kilometers from the nest to feed (summarized by Barr et al. 2000). Thus a large separation distance is appropriate; the distance is a compromise between the high mobility of loons and the need for occurrences of practical size for conservation purposes. Occurrences do not necessarily reflect discrete populations or metapopulations.

Inferred Minimum Extent of Habitat Use (when actual extent is unknown): 1 km
Inferred Minimum Extent Justification: Home range sizes generally not available. This distance based conservatively on a breeding territory size of 80 hectares; i.e. does not include foraging lakes or salt water separate from nesting lake.
Date: 28Oct2004
Author: Cannings, S., and G. Hammerson

Use Class: Nonbreeding
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Evidence of recurring presence of wintering flocks (including historical); and potential recurring presence at a given location, minimally reliable observations of 25 birds in appropriate habitat for at least 20 days annually. Be cautious about creating EOs for observations that may represent single events.
Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Justification: Separation distance somewhat arbitrary. Ecology of wintering loons not well known. Apparently have territories of 4-8 hectares under some circumstances, but raft together at night (McIntyre 1978); in other studies gathered in feeding assemblages (Daub 1989).
Date: 11Apr2001
Author: Cannings, S.
Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 07Jan2014
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Koenen, M., and D. W. Mehlman (2008-01-04); partially modified by NeSmith, C. C. (2014)
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 31Aug1995
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): HAMMERSON, G.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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  • Stallcup, R. 1994. Focus: loons. Point Reyes Bird Observatory, Fall 1994, pp. 6-7.

  • Terres, J. K. 1980. The Audubon Society encyclopedia of North American birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

  • Wetlands International. (2014). Waterbird Population Estimates. Retrieved from: http://wpe.wetlands.org on various dates in 2014.

  • Wildlife Management Information System (WMIS). 2006+. Geo-referenced wildlife datasets (1900 to present) from all projects conducted by Environment and Natural Resources, Government of the Northwest Territories, Canada.  Available at http://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/programs/wildlife-research/wildlife-management-information-services

  • Wood, MERRILL. 1979. BIRDS OF PENNSYLVANIA. PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV., UNIVERSITY PARK. 133 PP.

  • del Hoyo, J., A. Elliot and J. Sargatal. 1992. Handbook of the birds of the world. Volume I: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. 696 pp.

  • eBird. 2016. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Available: http://www.ebird.org. Accessed in 2016.

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