Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Red-throated Loon - Gavia stellata
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General Comments The Red-throated Loon is often one of the most common birds on the ocean in the winter, as well as on Pamlico Sound. It is not unusual to see over 1,000 birds on a Swan Quarter to Ocracoke ferry crossing. Interestingly, along most east-facing beaches (the Outer Banks north of Cape Hatteras and the southern coast of New Hanover) the species is quite numerous on the inshore ocean; on the other hand, along the south-facing beaches, at least along Bogue Banks in Carteret, it is typically outnumbered on the inshore ocean by the Common Loon! What the reasons are for this disparity are not obvious; however, at the relatively east-facing beaches at Figure Eight Island and Wrightsville Beach (island), in northern New Hanover, the Common Loon greatly outnumbers the Red-throated Loon! Unlike with the Common Loon, the Red-throated is infrequently found inland, where it is a good find on the larger reservoirs. Its favored habitats are the inshore ocean and the larger bays (mainly Pamlico Sound), usually well away from shorelines.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S5N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident. Common to locally abundant along the northern coast, and generally common along the southern coast. Often abundant on Pamlico Sound, but scarce on other brackish waters. Casual to very rare on fresh water in Tidewater and inland, both in midwinter and in migration. Mainly early Nov into Apr, but many records during summer. Peak counts: 5,000, off Bogue Banks, 13 Dec 2012; 3,751, on the Kitty Hawk CBC, 19 Dec 2015; 3,250, at Jennette's Pier (Dare), 26 Feb 2017; 2,775, Southport, 5 Jan 2003; 1,980, Pea Island, 29 Dec 1994.
Piedmont Winter visitor and transient. Rare on larger reservoirs, with the bulk of the records from Roanoke Rapids Lake, Falls Lake, Jordan Lake, and Lake Norman; very rare elsewhere. Mainly early Nov to early Dec, and mid-Feb to mid-Mar; relatively few midwinter records (very rare from mid-Dec thru Jan). Peak counts: 9, Lake Norman, 9 Mar 2014; 6, Lake Norman, 22 Feb 2014; 5, Roanoke Rapids Lake, 8 Jan 2007; 4, Lake Norman, 15 Dec 2013.
Mountains Accidental; the only two records are one at "Biltmore (1904)" (Pearson et al., 1942); and one on Lake Julian (Buncombe) from 19 Feb - 27 Apr 2004 [Chat 68:85-86 link].
Finding Tips The Swan Quarter to Ocracoke ferry, the beaches from Cape Hatteras to the Virginia border, and the beaches at Fort Fisher, are the best best places to see the species in the state, in the winter season. When looking from beaches, scopes are very helpful, as the birds are often not close to shore; the end of Jennette's Pier in Nags Head (Dare) is a great place to look for them.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-14], LeGrand[2021-03-06], LeGrand[2017-08-23]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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