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're 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  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.

Harassment of Waterbirds

Intentional harassment is one of the problems birds encounter in the more populated parts of Alaska. Birds can tolerate some human activities, but repeated disturbance of a bird incubating eggs or tending newly hatched young can result in abandonment of the nest or death. 

Most harassment occurs simply out of ignorance. Some people may not realize that they are disturbing birds or that this disturbance could have lasting impacts. Education of neighbors and visitors may be all that is needed. Placing educational signs and working with the appropriate authorities may be an option on some lakes. For more information about education signs contact Tamara Zeller: tamara_zeller@fws.gov; (907) 786-3517

There are times when intentional harassment occurs that results in loss of a nest, eggs, or even the death of birds. This situation should be reported to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement: (907) 786-3311 (main); (907) 786-3992 (Anchorage); (907) 456-2335 (Fairbanks)