Barry Kent MacKayArt by Barry Kent MacKay
Art and Photo Presentation

In this section are copies of original works of art. All of them are dedicated to helping us live according to unconditional love and compassion, which is the foundation of our peaceful means of bringing true and lasting peace to all of God's creatures, whether they are human beings or other animals.

Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata)

red-throated loon
(Artwork - 120)
Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata)

The birds we call “loons” in North America are called “divers” in other English-speaking regions, so this species is also known as the Red-throated Diver. Either way, while the Common Loon is the most widely distributed and the species most people think of as “the” loon, once you are above the treeline, where no less than four other species of loon occur, the Common, Arctic, Pacific and the Yellow-billed. I think perhaps the best known in the far north is this one, the lovely Red-throated Loon.

Its English name refers, of course, to the distinctive dark rusty-red patch on the throat. The plumage of the head is a lovely pale grey and incredibly soft and velvety to the touch, with distinctive black and white striping down the back of the neck, markings also seen on the Pacific and Arctic Loons. The non-breeding plumages of immatures and adults in winter is quite like the equivalent plumages of other loon species, essentially dark above and white below, but with especially distinctive pale speckling on the back, “star-like”, referred to by “stellata” in the species part of the scientific name, as it means “set with stars”. The generic name, Gavia, is from the Latin for “sea mew”. While these birds nest mostly in fresh-water tundra ponds, lakes and rivers, they migrate and winter in ocean waters and are quite at home in rough seas. Like all loons, they run along the surface of the water to take off, but need much less space than other loons, and don’t dive as deep, and so can utilize small tundra ponds. Like many migratory waterfowl, it goes through a period of being flightless, all primary feathers having shed at once. It lasts about a month, maximum, in late summer.

Like other loons, Red-throateds are primary fish-eaters, although other marine life and even some vegetation may be taken. They are well known by the northern indigenous peoples of Eurasia and North America, often entering into cultural traditions. They are still hunted, or their eggs eaten, in some regions, and in myth they are thought to predict the weather, and are still called “rain geese” in the Orkney and Shetland Islands of Scotland.

They are the smallest loon, weighing only about one to two and a half kilograms (about two to six pounds) and in spite of a very wide range across the northern hemisphere they show no geographic variation. Like so many northern North American wildlife species, it’s thought they originated in what is now northern Asia and moved across the Bering strait (easily, since they could fly) to colonize northern North America once retreating ice-age glaciers freed up suitable summer breeding habitat. It is the least “loon-like” of the loons.

They form long-term pair bonds, normally lay two eggs, and are, as I have shown in my painting, very attentive parents. The downy young are dark grey and can swim and dive at an early age.

The painting is approximately 24 by 30 inches, and is in acrylics on compressed hardboard. 

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Copyright © Barry Kent MacKay
Barry describes himself as a Canadian artist/writer/naturalist.
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