Biodôme visitors can now observe, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence ecosystem, an exceptional bird, one that is rarely if ever seen in captivity. This is the red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata), which is the smallest representative of the loon family. This bird, which feeds on fish, normally nests in Canada’s Far North, and winters along the coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Like all loons, it’s a bird more often found alone or as part of a couple, except during the winter period in its marine environment, during which it can be seen in more important groups.
Status of the species
The red-throated Loon is not an endangered species. Its breeding in small northern ponds can nevertheless be compromised by variations in the water level. It is also disturbed by human activities, which can cause it to flee. During the winter months along the ocean shores, it is highly vulnerable to oil spills.
Loons in captivity
Loons being naturally highly timid and nervous, it is virtually impossible to acclimate them to captivity – for which reason they are extremely rare in zoos. According to the international inventory system ZIMS/ISIS (Zoo Information Management System), only a few common loons are kept in a rehabilitation center in the United States. No institution, apart from the Biodôme, currently presents the red-throated Loon.
Story of the Biodôme’s red-throated Loon
The Biodôme’s red-throated Loon is an injured adult male, found north of Lac Saint-Jean and rescued by the Zoo sauvage of Saint-Félicien. Given that the bird was permanently incapable of flight and could never be set free, it was offered to the Biodôme, which was deemed to be the most appropriate zoological institution to present the species to the public. Knowing the difficulty of acclimating a loon to captivity, we reckoned, at the outset, that our chances of succeeding with such a wild species were slim. The Zoo sauvage of Saint-Félicien had nevertheless done excellent preliminary work and we were happily surprised to see the bird quickly get used to the presence of humans and to a diet of frozen fish. In its new habitat at the Biodôme, the bird is remarkably calm. It does not flee from humans, and even emits little cries, as though it wants to communicate. This outstanding success demonstrates once again the unique potential of the Biodôme concept.