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A Red-Throated Loon glides gracefully through the serene waters of Elkhorn Slough, its elegant form a testament to the beauty of this coastal habitat.

Elkhorn Slough, nestled between Santa Cruz and Monterey in Moss Landing, is a haven for diverse wildlife. Among the enchanting creatures that call this tidal waterway home, the loons stand out as both intriguing and captivating. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the world of loons, specifically the Red-Throated Loon, Pacific Loon, Common Loon, and Yellow-Billed Loon, and explore their unique characteristics that make them distinct within the Elkhorn Slough ecosystem.

Red-Throated Loon: The Elegance of the Arctic

The Red-Throated Loon (Gavia stellata) is a striking and graceful bird known for its sleek profile and distinctive red throat during breeding season. As a winter visitor to the Elkhorn Slough, this loon travels great distances from its Arctic breeding grounds. Its haunting calls echo across the slough, adding a touch of mystique to the tranquil waters.

Pacific Loon: A True Seafarer

The Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica) is a traveler of the open seas, often seen during the winter months along the California coast. With its striking checkerboard pattern on the back and its dagger-like bill, the Pacific Loon is a sight to behold. It’s known for its ability to dive deeply in pursuit of fish, showcasing its remarkable underwater hunting skills.

Common Loon: A Symbol of Wilderness

The Common Loon (Gavia immer) is a symbol of North American wilderness, its haunting calls evoking a sense of remote lakes and untouched landscapes. Though not as common in California as its name suggests, it is a remarkable visitor to Elkhorn Slough during the winter. With its striking black-and-white plumage and distinctive call, the Common Loon is a true spectacle.

Yellow-Billed Loon: The Enigmatic Visitor

The Yellow-Billed Loon (Gavia adamsii) is a rare and enigmatic visitor to the Elkhorn Slough. With its pale plumage and distinctive, slightly upturned yellow bill, it is a sight that bird enthusiasts yearn to behold. Known for its behavior of staying farther offshore, observing a Yellow-Billed Loon at the slough is a special and rare event.

Appreciating the Diversity

Elkhorn Slough is a unique and thriving ecosystem that welcomes these four species of loons, each with its own characteristics and behaviors. Observing these birds in their natural habitat offers a glimpse into the interconnectedness of the natural world. As visitors to Elkhorn Slough, we have the privilege of witnessing these magnificent birds as they find respite and sustenance in this beautiful tidal waterway.


The Elkhorn Slough is a treasure trove of avian diversity, with the Red-Throated Loon, Pacific Loon, Common Loon, and Yellow-Billed Loon gracing its waters. Each loon species brings its own charm and uniqueness to this breathtaking ecosystem. So, whether you’re an avid birder, a nature enthusiast, or simply seeking a peaceful connection with wildlife, a visit to Elkhorn Slough promises a memorable experience filled with the enchanting presence of these remarkable loons.

Witness the dance of nature as the loons serenely glide on the waters of Elkhorn Slough, reminding us of the fragile beauty of our planet’s biodiversity.

Behold the magnificent transformation! A graceful Common Loon, adorned in vibrant breeding plumage, prepares for its remarkable journey. As part of its annual migration along the awe-inspiring Pacific Flyway, this avian marvel makes a momentous stopover at the enchanting Elkhorn Slough

Awe-struck by Nature’s Brilliance. Witness the dazzling transformation of a Common Loon as it dons its captivating breeding plumage amidst the scenic beauty of Elkhorn Slough – a vital pitstop along the majestic Pacific Flyway migration route. #NatureWonder #PacificFlyway #ElkhornSlough #MigratorySplendor