Another Red Throat

When I saw my first Red-throated Loon in full breeding plumage four years ago, I thought I’d never see another one. The bird seasonally hangs out on the Farallon Islands but is rarely seen here. I saw two more in winter plumage, not so interesting to look at, in 2017 and 2018. Last week, while my attention was focused on the Tall Willhowherb, a movement on the water caught the edge of my eye. The overcast sky drained much of the color, and I wasn’t quite sure what I was seeing. Only when I got the images home and could brighten things up and nudge the vibrancy did it become clear that this was a Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata) in breeding plumage, no doubt about it.

The Cornell bird lab website has these “Cool Facts” about this bird:

The slight Red-throated Loon, unlike other loons, does not need to patter on the water’s surface on a long takeoff. It can take flight directly from land if necessary.

Birds’ digestive tracts have many different ways of handling the difficult-to-digest parts of prey. Owls regurgitate pellets of fur and bones, but loons grind up their food in two digestive organs called the proventriculus and gizzard. The proventriculus starts digesting proteins, and then the gizzard grinds up the hard parts using pea-sized pebbles the loons have swallowed.

The Red-throated Loon is the only loon that regularly forages far from its breeding territory, returning from distant lakes or the sea with fish for the young.

Unlike other loons, the Red-throated Loon does not carry its young on its back.

Although smaller than other loons, they travel farther to do their breeding; commonly the northernmost coast of Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and Russia suits them best. They’re excellent fishers. Sometimes they paddle on the surface with their head looking down into the water, as the loon in the video does briefly. At other times they fly and then crash-dive and pursue their prey at speed underwater. They’re monogamous and mate for life. Both male and female build the nest, sit on the eggs, and help feed the young. Like all birds, the Red-throated Loon faces threats from loss of habitat due to commercial development and pollution.

More about the RTLO: Wikipedia Cornell Audubon

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