|Gavia adamsii||Order: Gaviiformes||Family: Gaviidae (Loons)|
This oversized loon, closely related to the Common Loon, breeds along the Arctic Ocean and winters in the northern Pacific and along the coast of northern Norway. Some ornithologists place the Yellow-billed Loon in a “superspecies” with the Common Loon.
Individuals very rarely wander out of this range. In November 1979, I saw one on Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin. One or two other birders chanced on the same individual that same day and also documented it, but it was a first state record in a species with virtually no other inland records in the United States, so it is listed as a “hypothetical hypothetical” on the Wisconsin checklist.
The first one ever reported in Minnesota was seen on November 16, 1980, on Lake Winnibigoshish–it made its way to Lake Superior on Thanksgiving. This was before I moved to Minnesota, but since this was just a year after the Wisconsin record, it lent credence to it. In October 1987, one was seen at Brighton Beach in Duluth during a North Shore birding weekend, so many birders saw it. This was before most birders were bringing along camera equipment, so I don’t have any photos.
The only Yellow-billed Loon in breeding plumage I’ve ever seen was along the Nome-Council Road in Alaska on 14 June 2022 on a Victor Emanuel Nature Tour, when one flew by too rapidly for me to photograph. That happened to be the only day our group also saw an Arctic Loon (the only one I’ve ever seen!), giving us all five loon species on the same day.
To illustrate the bird, I’m using an 1894 drawing from The Ibis by John Gerrard Keulemans (1842–1912) from Wikimedia, in the Public Domain in the United States.