U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Loons & Grebes

Loons and grebes are waterbirds that breed on freshwater lakes and ponds during the Alaska 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.

Unlike anywhere else in North America, all of the five species of loons breed in Alaska: Red-throated, Arctic, Pacific, Common, and Yellow-billed loons.. 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 vulnerable to disturbance due to its 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.

Conservation

Alaska Loon and Grebe Watch

The Alaska Loon and Grebe Watch Program is a citizen science volunteer-based effort in south central Alaska managed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.  This program helps biologists monitor population trends and identify hazards facing these unique water birds in Alaska’s most populated area.  For more information visit the program's website here.

 

Alaska Loon and Grebe Working Group

The Alaska Loon and Grebe Working Group is a collection of biologists, managers, and enthusiasts interested in working together to elevate the status of loons and grebes in Alaska. The Working Group was first convened in December 1997 and has met intermittently since then though the group is currently inactive. The goals of the Alaska Loon and Grebe Working Group are to:

  • Facilitate exchange of information among biologists, managers, and the public
  • Identify conservation and management issues faced by Alaska's loons and grebes
  • Review and identify gaps in knowledge of loon and grebe distributions, status, and ecology
  • Facilitate collaborative projects among agencies and others.

The Alaska Loon Working Group Project Directory  (275kb, pdf) concerning loons in Alaska was completed in March 2000. The directory contains brief summaries of ongoing, recently completed and planned projects focus upon loons and grebes throughout the state. The directory also includes a summary of our current knowledge on the status of Alaska's loon populations and a bibliography of loons in Alaska.

Minutes From Working Group Meetings: 1997-1999 (275kb,pdf), 2002  (90kb, pdf), 2003  (103kb, pdf)

Alaska Loon and Grebe Watch

The Alaska Loon and Grebe Watch Program is a citizen science volunteer-based effort in south central Alaska managed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.  This program helps biologists monitor population trends and identify hazards facing these unique water birds in Alaska’s most populated area.  For more information visit the program's website here.

 

Alaska Loon and Grebe Working Group

The Alaska Loon and Grebe Working Group is a collection of biologists, managers, and enthusiasts interested in working together to elevate the status of loons and grebes in Alaska. The Working Group was first convened in December 1997 and has met intermittently since then though the group is currently inactive. The goals of the Alaska Loon and Grebe Working Group are to:

  • Facilitate exchange of information among biologists, managers, and the public
  • Identify conservation and management issues faced by Alaska's loons and grebes
  • Review and identify gaps in knowledge of loon and grebe distributions, status, and ecology
  • Facilitate collaborative projects among agencies and others.

The Alaska Loon Working Group Project Directory  (275kb, pdf) concerning loons in Alaska was completed in March 2000. The directory contains brief summaries of ongoing, recently completed and planned projects focus upon loons and grebes throughout the state. The directory also includes a summary of our current knowledge on the status of Alaska's loon populations and a bibliography of loons in Alaska.

Minutes From Working Group Meetings: 1997-1999 (275kb,pdf), 2002  (90kb, pdf), 2003  (103kb, pdf)

South-Central Alaska Loon Survey

Common Loons (Gavia immer), Pacific Loons (G. pacifica), and occasional Red-throated Loons (G. stellata) occupy lakes in the lower Matanuska-Susitna Valley and northern Kenai Peninsula in south-central Alaska.  These populations may be impacted by increasing human settlement and disturbance associated with the use of lakes for recreation.  Volunteers of the Alaska Loon and Grebe Watch began monitoring loons in 1985; however, this program is limited in effort and geographic distribution.  The expanse of loon habitat with no road access has made extensive population-level monitoring difficult.  In May 2001, we began an aerial survey to determine the distribution, abundance, productivity, and population trend of loons in south-central Alaska.  The data gathered will establish baseline information on loon populations useful for monitoring, assessment, and management decisions.  Specific objectives are:

  1. To monitor the trend of Common and Pacific Loon populations.  With 5 years of data, we will estimate the spatial and temporal scale for which reliable trend information can be obtained.
  2. To estimate the spatial distribution and relative importance of various lakes and lake systems for loons (i.e. determine which lakes tend to be occupied over time)
  3. To estimate the production of young in each geographic unit, for comparison of areas with different levels of human impact.
  4. To estimate the total population size for each survey unit.
  5. To relate loon distribution, population trend, and productivity to other variables such as: a) general patterns of disturbance by people, boats, aircraft, homes, pets, or commercial development, b) water quality, c) populations of forage fish or northern pike. 

Personnel:

ROBERT A. STEHN, ROBERT M. PLATTE, WILLIAM LARNED, TAMARA ZELLER, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Migratory Bird Management

 

Habitat Relationships of Yellow-billed Loons in Northern Alaska

(project description and preliminary results)

Lakes greater than 7ha on 61 7km x 7km plots were searched by 2 crews in Cessna 206 amphibious aircraft for Yellow-billed Loons, Pacific Loons, and loon nests on the arctic coastal plain of Alaska 18-24 June 2003.  The objectives of this survey were to estimate loon population size, estimate loon detection rate, and obtain loon locations for habitat modeling.  Four plots were searched independently by both crews sequentially to develop a detection rate for each crew.  Crews searched all water bodies within 5 plots to examine potential use of smaller water bodies by Yellow-billed Loons.

Population indices from this survey were 2,090 yellow-billed loons and 39,945 Pacific loons for the arctic coastal plain survey area.  Yellow-billed Loons occurred more frequently on large lakes relative to available lakes on the survey area.  Detection rate analysis and habitat modeling have not been completed.  We have derived independent habitat variables including lake size, perimeter, shoreline shape, shoreline vegetation, distance to streams, and depth to use in a logistic regression model to predict and map probability of yellow-billed loon occurrence for the entire survey area.  Results may be useful for management of the species during potential oil and gas development on the arctic coastal plain.

Additional plots (up to 81 more plots) will be surveyed in summer 2004 following the same protocol as in 2003.  All data will be analyzed and a final report will be completed by spring 2005.

Personnel: ROBERT A. STEHN, ROBERT M. PLATTE, WILLIAM LARNED, ED MALLEK, TAMARA ZELLER, DENNIS MARKS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Migratory Bird Management

SUSAN L. EARNST, U.S. Geological Survey, Forest & Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

 

For More Information

Looking for more information on these and other projects involving loons and grebes? Please contact Tamara ZELLER, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Migratory Bird Management, 1011 E. Tudor Road, ms 201, Anchorage, Alaska 99503; 907-786-3517; tamara_zeller@fws.gov.

Reports and Publications

To receive a copy of a publication or report listed here, please contact:
Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
1011 E. Tudor Road, Anchorage, Alaska 99503
or call 907-786-3443

General

  • Loon Harvest Study
  • Fair, J. 1998. The status of loons in Anchorage and the lower Matanuska-Susitna Valley – A summary report of Alaska LoonWatch, 1985-1997. Unpublished. Report to Anchorage Audubon Society, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. 40 pp.
  • Groves, D.J., B. Conant, R.J. King, J.I. Hodges, and J.G. King. 1996. Status and trends of loon populations summering in Alaska, 1971-1993. Condor 98:189-195.
  • Mills, T. K. 2003. Alaska LoonWatch 2003. Unpublished Report, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Report, Anchorage, Alaska.
  • Mills, T. K. 2002. Alaska LoonWatch 2000-2002. Unpublished. Report, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Report, Anchorage, Alaska (360kb, pdf). – link broken
  • Mills, T. K. 2000. Anchorage 2000 LoonWatch. Unpublished. Report, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Report, Anchorage, Alaska. – Link broken

Yellow-billed loon

Common Loon

  • Mills, Tamara K. and Brad A. Andres. 2004. Changes in Loon (Gavia spp) and Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisengena) Populations in the Lower Matanuska –Susitna Valley, Alaska. Canadian Field-Naturalist 118(2): 210-214. http://canadianfieldnaturalist.ca/index.php/cfn/article/view/915/916
  • Evers, D. C. 2004. Status assessment and conservation plan for the Common Loon (Gavia immer) in North America. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hadley, Massachusetts (1mb, pdf).

Pacific Loon

Red-throated Loon

  • Gotthardt, T. 2001. Status Report on the Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata). Prepared for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ecological Services, Anchorage, Alaska.

Loon Aerial Survey Reports

For more survey information on loons and grebes from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, please see Waterfowl Survey Reports.