Migratory Bird Management
Alaska Region



What are Loons and Grebes?

Red-throated Loon. USFWS. Click to EnlargeLoons and grebes are waterbirds that breed on freshwater lakes and ponds during the summer and spend the rest of the year on coastal marine waters. They are medium-to-large sized birds that dive underwater to feed primarily on fish but some species also eat  invertebrates such as dragonfly larvae. Their legs are positioned far back on the body making these birds strong swimmers but awkward on land.  They come to land only to nest, often on the shore of the same lake year after year.

Who are Alaska's Loons and Grebes?

 Unlike anywhere else in North America, all of the five species of  loons; Red-throated, Arctic, Pacific, Common, and Yellow-billed loons, nest in Alaska.  Red-necked and Horned grebes breed over a wide portion of the state.  Recent information suggests that populations of many of these species are showing warning signs in parts of their range.  The Yellow-billed Loon is particularly vulnerable to disturbance due to it's extremely small population size and limited breeding range.  The Horned Grebe is one of the more precipitously declining species in all of North America since 1980 and all three of the widely distributed loons in Alaska (Common, Pacific, and Red-throated loons) have experienced local or regional declines over the last two decades.  The causes of declines among these birds are poorly understood; however, populations are vulnerable to mortality from a wide range of threats including oil spills, contaminants, fishing gear, and other human disturbances.  Lead poisoning from ingesting fishing sinkers is a particular threat to Common Loons.

Red-necked Grebe. USFWS. Click to EnlargeUnfortunately, little is known about the status, trends, and natural history of loons and grebes breeding in Alaska and even less is know about populations on wintering sites both within and outside the state.  Therefore our office has participated in several projects to illuminate critical aspects of the natural history of this poorly understood, but vulnerable group of birds.  Also the Alaska Loon and Grebe Working Group was formed in 1997 to help conserve Alaskan populations of loons and grebes.


Last Updated: September 15, 2008