Identifying Loons

Bert Frenz, 1999, 2006

The only loon reported in the Brazos Valley is Common Loon.  But other parts of Texas have occasional reports in winter of Pacific and Red-throated Loons and even Yellow-billed Loon a few times.  Breeding plumage loons are fairly easy to identify, but wintering birds are a challenge.   There is no birding area in the Brazos Valley where you can count on finding a loon.  Irregular sightings have usually occurred on the big lakes, e.g., Gibbons Creek Reservoir.  Interestingly, the only sighting in Robertson County was at a small residential lake only a couple dozen acres in size.

Decision Tree for Identifying Winter Loons

Bill and head position?
    = tilted slightly up
       Bill shape & color?
           = thick & yellowish.... Yellow-billed Loon
           = thin & gray.... Red-throated Loon
    = held level
       Bill shape & color?
           = thick & dark....  Common Loon
           = thin & dark....  Pacific/Arctic Loon

Other field marks

Yellow-billed Loon - dark, white mark behind eye contrasts to light face; longer bill than Common Loon; browner back than Common Loon; crown peaked in front and back; accidental in Texas.

Common Loon - white notch on neck; white throat and face encircles eye; steep forehead; crown peaked at front only.

Pacific/Arctic Loon - smoothly rounded head; brown crown and nape contrast to white throat and foreneck; thin brown necklace extends around white throat; brown cap includes eye, unlike Common Loon; crown and nape lighter than back.

Red-throated Loon - smoothly rounded head; white face includes eye, but is more sharply defined than Common Loon; back is spotted compared to Common or Pacific/Arctic Loons; head paler than back and paler than other winter loons.

Test your identification skills

(Click on each of picture icons)

This ones tricky ---->  Mystery birds

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Copyright 1999, 2006 Bert Frenz. All rights reserved.
Revised: October 29, 2012.