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Yellow-billed Loon

Gavia adamsii

Length: 35 inches Wingspan: 45 to 50 inches Seasonality: Accidental Visitor
ID Keys: Largest of the loons, thick heavy pale bill, thick neck.  Similar to Common Loon in plumage.

Yellow-billed Loon - Gavia adamsiiThe Yellow-billed Loon is the largest of the loons, resembling a Common Loon in plumage but obviously larger and more heavily built.  They are truly a bird of the north, breeding further north than the other commonly found loons in North America.  In winter, the majority of birds are found in the north Pacific.  Only a few are found as far south as the lower 48 states, and nearly all of those along the Pacific Coast.  Increasingly, however, single birds have been spotted wintering in the interior of North America.  The species was unknown in South Dakota until a single bird was spotted below Fort Randall Dam in December 2008.  the photo to the right represents a bird in winter plumage.

Habitat: Breeding grounds are the high Arctic tundra.   Usually winters on the ocean, often near islands, in bays, or other semi-protected areas.  A very few may winter on large lakes and reservoirs in the interior of the continent.

Diet: Probably feeds primarily on fish, although the diet of the species is poorly understood.  There are some indications that fledgling will also feed on some plant material.

Behavior: Feeds as do other loons, by diving below the water's surface and swimming underwater in pursuit of prey, propelled primarily by their feet.

Breeding: Non-breeder in South Dakota

Song: Similar yodeling or wailing to a Common Loon, but slower, deeper-pitched, and more coarse.

Migration: Summers in the high Arctic.  Most winter in the North Pacific, with just a very few birds wintering in the interior of the continent. 

Interactive eBird map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Yellow Loon sightings

Similar Species: Common Loon

Conservation Status: Worldwide population is likely only 10,000 or less.  Although the breeding grounds are far from most human disturbance, the low total population makes the species potentially vulnerable to a large oil spill or natural disaster.  Given population declines in recent years, the IUCN considers the Yellow-billed Loon to be a "Near Threatened" species.

Further Information: 1) BirdWeb - Yellow-billed Loon

2) Audubon Field Guide - Yellow-billed Loon

3) Whatbird: Yellow-billed Loon

Photo Information: Photo taken by Ryan Askren - August 12th, 2013 - Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, Alaska


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Yellow-billed Loon - Range map
South Dakota Status: Rarely found inland in the lower 48 states, and unknown in South Dakota until a single bird was found in December 2008.  There are sight records from several surrounding states as well, however, indicating that the species may be seen again in South Dakota.

Additional Yellow-billed Loon Photos (coming soon!)