Birds of Chignik Lake: Yellow-billed Loon

This handsome Yellow-billed Loon was hanging out in an eddy favored by piscivores on the Chignik River. During breeding season, in addition to a distinctive black-and-white chessboard back and bright red eyes, that massive bill would be a diagnostic lemon-sunshine yellow. (November 27, 2017)

When I began this project, I didn’t know that there was such a thing as a Yellow-billed Loon, so I was stoked when in November of 2016 a “different looking” loon sent me to my copy of The Sibley Field Guide. I’d love to see this species in its dramatic breeding plumage, but any sighting of this fairly rare bird constitutes a red-letter day.

What first drew my attention to the Yellow-bills I encountered was their size. Compared even with Commons, they’re large. And of course there’s that dagger Yellow-bills are armed with. While the bills of wintertime Commons can take on a light, blueish-silver color, there’s no mistaking the yellow in a Yellow-billed.

Salmon parr dimple the surface of The Bend on the Chignik River just below Chignik Lake. This is a good place to set a net for Sockeyes, cast a fly for Silvers, or check for fish-eaters such as otters, seals, eagles, kingfishers, mergansers and goldeneyes. (May 7, 2019)


Range: Yellow-billed Loons are circumpolar Arctic breeders with about half of the world’s 10,000 birds living in Alaska. Their winter range includes the coastal waters of the Aleutian Islands, the Alaska Peninsula, and the Alaskan coast as it extends south and on into British Columbia. They are occasionally observed in fall and winter as far down the Pacific Coast as California, rarely to Mexico, occasionally to inland lakes.

Yellow-billed Loon: Gavia adamsii
Order: Gaviiformes
Gavia: sea mew
adamsii: after British naval surgeon & naturalist Edward Adams who collected and sketched this species

Status at Chignik Lake 2016-19: Occasional in Fall & Winter

David Narver, Birds of the Chignik River Drainage, summers 1960-63: Not Observed

Alaska Peninsula and Becharof National Wildlife Refuge Bird List, 2010:
Rare in Fall & Winter; Not Observed Spring & Summer

Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve Bird List: Probable but not Verified

Previous Article: Common Loon

Next Article: Red-necked Grebe

*For a clickable list of bird species and additional information about this project, click here: Birds of Chignik Lake

© Photographs, images and text by Jack Donachy unless otherwise noted.


2 thoughts on “Birds of Chignik Lake: Yellow-billed Loon

    • This is one of my favorite places in the world. Just behind me where I made this picture, there is a stand of 20 mature White Spruce Trees. It’s an important piece of habitat for owls, birds of prey and songbirds and will feature prominently in future posts. In late summer and fall, you can sit here, watch birds and wildlife, and hear the salmon leaping as they move upriver.

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