A wailing, sea-bound loon means that a storm is brewing, while a loon returning to shore signals clear skies—or so the folklore goes. Today, there are better ways to predict the weather. But is it possible that the red-throated loon could still tell us something about a changing climate?
Researchers think so. A 40-year-long study of Alaskan red-throated loons has linked global warming to a 50 percent population decline. Smallest and lightest of the loons, the red-throated prefers to nest and raise its clutch of one to two chicks in Arctic ponds. While they face less competition with larger loons in these shallow waters, the red-throated loon’s wetlands habitat is vanishing.
 
In the summer, the ice-jammed rivers that create delta lakes and ponds are thawing too quickly, leaving behind fewer of the waters that red-throated loons depend on for survival. The hotter temperatures also dry out the places where loons build their nests and make the eggs and chicks easy prey for gulls and foxes.
 
In winter, this migratory bird takes up residence along both U.S. coasts, where other hazards await. The fish-eating loons often plunge headfirst into fishing nets, where they become entangled and drown.
 
What will be the future of this fascinating fowl? Researchers say it’s hard to tell—but if temperatures in the Arctic keep rising and greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, the forecast doesn’t look good.
 
Only select articles from Defenders are available online. To receive 4 issues annually of the full award-winning magazine, become a member of Defenders of Wildlife

More Articles From This Issue

New Warning on Warming

Bipartisan study removes all doubts

Green Scene

Solar Power Dreamin'

On the Ground

Turning the Tide on a Turtle's Fate

Defenders News Briefs

Condor victory; Throwing a Brick at the Wall

Taking a Stand for Wildlife

America's Wildlife Heritage Act

Defenders in Action: Wolf Wars and Woes Continue

© Russ Morgan/Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife It took

Wildlife: There Ought to be More Otters and more

© Flip Nicklin/Minden Pictures There Oughta Be More Otters These

Defenders View - Ensuring that Green Energy is Clean Energy

by Rodger Schlickeisen, President © Krista Schlyer The winds of

To Catch an Oystercatcher

Scientists try to get a grip on one of America’s

Royale Challenge

On a remote island in the Great Lakes, wolves and

Heartbreak Highway

Roads and development spell trouble for Florida's panthers By Heidi

Join Today

With engaging stories and spectacular photography, Defenders of Wildlife's magazine provides readers with a behind-the-scenes look at what biologists and conservationists are doing to protect imperiled wild animals and plants.

Get the Magazine