Sunday’s Faux Duck o’ the Week

December 27, 2020 • 8:00 am

Once again we have John Avise‘s weekly Mystery Faux Duck: a series of species sometimes mistaken for real ducks but aren’t.  Have a look at the photos, guess this week’s species, and then go below the fold to see if you’re right. You’ll also see a range map and learn some stuff about the bird from John (his captions and description are indented; click pictures to enlarge them).

Side view of non-breeding adult:

Frontal view:

Juvenile showing just a hint of red on the throat:

Slim bill angled slightly skyward:

Paddling furiously:

Rare sight of bird resting on land:

Very rare sight of bird walking on land:

Head portrait:

Another head portrait:

Click “continue reading” to see the ID, John’s Fun Faux Dux Fax, and a range map:

ID: Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata)

To identify any bird in the wild, truly expert birders (and I’m not one of them) integrate many cues, including expected range, habitat type, time of year, plumage color, bill shape, behavior, vocalizations, and body shape including posture or silhouette.  The current bird is a good case-in-point of the latter.  Especially in its drab non-breeding plumage, it looks rather similar to a Common Loon (see last week’s post), but is smaller, slimmer, and has a slimmer bill that it almost always holds at an angle directed slightly skyward.  Unlike most other loons, the Red-throated Loon does not need to taxi before taking off, nor does it carry its chicks on its back while swimming.  But like other loons, this species nests at very high northern latitudes before moving to more southerly coastlines to winter.   Both sexes have a red throat during the summer season, but I’ve never photographed (nor even seen) a bird in this more colorful breeding condition.  [But in the third photo above, perhaps you can discern just the hint of a developing red throat in a juvenile bird.]  Here’s wishing everyone a happy as possible holiday season!

A range map from the Cornell bird site:

11 thoughts on “Sunday’s Faux Duck o’ the Week

  1. I was going to guess – loon, but noticed it’s not the Common sort we see in the Northern US. By the distribution map it looks like the coasts are the best hope of seeing it in the US.

  2. Winter plumage or immature Red-throated Loon. Note the slender bill that is carried at an angle slightly above the horizontal. This is a good field mark.

    1. I think that recent molecular and other evidence has led most experts to conclude that loons and grebes are not sister taxa, nor particularly closely related. If so, that means that these two groups have convergently evolved various of their adaptations for a surface-diving existence.

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