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HomeSpits­ber­gen infor­ma­ti­onWild­life → Red-throated diver

Red-throated diver (Gavia stellata)

Red-throated divers are beau­ti­ful, ele­gant birds, and the sight of a Red-throated diver next to a roman­tic litt­le lake in the tun­dra is a gre­at expe­ri­ence. You might hear its cat-like call, befo­re you see it.

Two Red-throated divers

Red-throated divers have a red spot at the throat.

Descrip­ti­on: Sea diver, that reminds one of a lar­ge duck both in flight and on the water. The­re are four spe­ci­es of sea divers world­wi­de. The Red- throated diver is the smal­lest, being 53-69 cm long and weig­hing 1.500-1.700 g, and is the only sea diver bree­ding in Spits­ber­gen, apart from the Gre­at Nort­hern diver of which a few sin­gle pairs are bree­ding on Bjørnøya in the far south. Their long, poin­ted, slight­ly down-bent beak is cha­rac­te­ris­tic, tog­e­ther with the brow­nish-red throat and the grey head. Male and fema­le birds look the same. In flight the long slim neck is slight­ly bent down­wards, which gives the­se divers a very spe­ci­fic sil­hou­et­te. Typi­cal obser­va­tions are eit­her in flight or near small freshwa­ter lakes in the tun­dra or sit­ting on the water whe­re they will quick­ly retre­at if anything is com­ing clo­se. Red-throated divers float deep in the water and have a very ele­gant out­line, that is always bent a litt­le for­ward. When wal­king, which the bird will only do if necessa­ry, it loo­ks rather clum­sy as the legs are far back under the body. Red-throated divers call fre­quent­ly when in flight; their mono­to­nous calls car­ry a long way.

Dis­tri­bu­ti­on / Migra­ti­ons: The Red throated diver has a cir­cum­po­lar dis­tri­bu­ti­on in the Arc­tic and sub-Arc­tic down into the bore­al zone. In Sval­bard, they are most com­mon on the west coast of Spits­ber­gen, in the sou­the­ast (Tus­enøya­ne) and on Bjørnøya. They come to their bree­ding grounds in May or June and spend a long sum­mer in the North, well into Sep­tem­ber or even Octo­ber. Then, they move south, into coas­tal waters any­whe­re from Nor­way to the Medi­ter­ra­ne­an.

Bio­lo­gy: Pairs usual­ly breed on their own; only occa­sio­nal­ly will you see several pairs of Red-throated divers clo­se to each other. Usual­ly they build their nests on flat tun­dra on the shores of small lakes; occa­sio­nal­ly also on litt­le islands wit­hin such waters. In late June or ear­ly July, as soon as the lake near the nest is free of ice, the fema­le will lay one to three eggs (nor­mal­ly two). Both par­ents take part in the 26-28 days of incu­ba­ting, and in fee­ding the chick(s) until they beco­me inde­pen­dent after six to seven weeks.

Being good divers, as the name sug­gests, they find their food in the sea: They live most­ly on small fish, but will addi­tio­nal­ly take plant pie­ces and inver­te­bra­tes (most­ly insects) on shore.

Red-throated diver with Eiders in the background

Red-throated diver (in front) and Eiders in the back­ground

Mis­cel­la­ne­ous: The regio­nal popu­la­ti­on size is unknown, but it will not be lar­ge. Red-throated divers are very shy and will lea­ve the nest quick­ly as soon as they see some­bo­dy, even at a distance of 100 or 200 metres; eggs and chicks will then cool down or fall vic­tim to an Arc­tic fox, Gre­at skua or Glau­cous gull. Thus gre­at care is nee­ded. Keep a good distance away and be awa­re of your sil­hou­et­te when you walk over the hills, sud­den­ly appearing in a Red-throated diver’s view.

For good pho­tos, you will need a very good tele­pho­to lens, a tri­pod and you should be on your own and have a lot of time – or you have to be very quick when they are fly­ing over you.

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last modification: 2017-11-15 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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