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Species Spotlight: Red-throated Loon

Red-throated Loon, © Michael Quinton/Minden Pictures

© Michael Quinton/Minden Pictures
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.

More Articles from Fall 2009

Roads and development spell trouble for Florida's panthers
On a remote island in the Great Lakes, wolves and moose struggle against global warming's effects
Scientists try to get a grip on one of America’s least-abundant and most colorful shorebirds
The winds of change have been blowing strong in Washington since last year’s election. Nowhere is this more evident than in the tackling of the problem of global warming.
There Oughta Be More Otters; As the World Warms; Original Twittering Still Popular; Expecting to Fly
The America’s Wildlife Heritage Act aims to ensure that the government manages national forests and other public lands by making the health of ecosystems a priority.
The America’s Wildlife Heritage Act aims to ensure that the government manages national forests and other public lands by making the health of ecosystems a priority.
In a fresh start for forests, a federal court in June overturned the Bush administration’s last-ditch effort to weaken protections for wildlife on the country’s 175 national forests and grasslands.
It took more than two decades and more than a million federal dollars to bring gray wolves back from the brink in the lower 48 states.
Feeling the Heat with Jeff Corwin; Victory for California Wildlife; Throwing a Brick at the Wall
Alexandra Siess finished a hard day’s work retrieving nets used to catch and then count, measure, tag and release diamondback terrapins in the Chesapeake Bay
It’s topsy-turvy—California’s Mojave Desert—a place where sheep prefer rocky cliffs over grassy fields.

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