Very Rare Yellow-Billed Loon Visits the Las Vegas Strip, Hangs Out in the Bellagio Fountains

The out-of-place bird prompted the hotel to put its famed fountain show on hold before biologists captured and moved the bird—one of the country’s ten rarest—to better habitat

Brownish bird in water going under stone bridge
A yellow-billed loon was spotted hanging out on the Las Vegas Strip this week, far from its usual habitat in Alaska and the high Arctic. Rachel Aston / Las Vegas Review-Journal / Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Every day, thousands of tourists flock to the Bellagio Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip to see the “Fountains of Bellagio,” a choreographed show involving light, music and more than 1,000 fountains shooting water up to 460 feet into the air.

This week, a rare bird decided to join them.

A yellow-billed loon took up residence in the waters surrounding the iconic fountains, prompting the hotel to put its daily show on hold on Tuesday.

“We are happy to welcome the most exclusive guests,” the hotel posted on social media, adding that the loon had “found comfort” near the fountains.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife, meanwhile, had been taking calls for days from people who were concerned about the bird’s safety and well-being. Some asked the agency to rescue the loon. Initially, wildlife officials said they wouldn’t intervene unless the situation changed, and they expected the creature to move along of its own free will.

But Wednesday morning, a “rescue mission became necessary,” per the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Alan Halaly. Biologists captured the bird and moved it to a quieter location with better habitat and more access to food.

“According to the biologist who oversaw the capture, the bird had no apparent injuries and appeared to be in relatively good health,” says Doug Nielsen, a spokesman for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, to FOX Weather’s Chris Oberholtz.

Yellow-billed loons are migratory birds that typically spend their summers in the high Arctic and their winters along the coast of Alaska, according to Audubon. They are one of the ten rarest species of birds that regularly breed on the mainland United States, according to the National Park Service. Globally, the International Union for Conservation of Nature categorizes them as “near threatened,” with an estimated 11,000 to 21,000 individuals living in the wild.

Scientists have many unanswered questions about yellow-billed loons, such as what they eat and which routes they take between their winter habitat and breeding grounds, according to Audubon. They do know that the birds are about the same size as a heron and that they can have yellow, white, green and black feathers. Yellow-billed loons also have short tails and narrow, tapered wings. They’re related to common loons, but are larger and live farther north.

“Its great size, remote range and general rarity give the yellow-billed loon an aura of mystery for many birders,” per Audubon.

Even with all the mysteries surrounding these birds, Nevada is far outside their usual range—and it’s not clear how or why the yellow-billed loon ended up at the Bellagio. Whatever the reason for its unexpected pitstop, Donald Price, a biologist at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, tells the Las Vegas Review-Journal he’s “surprised” a loon would hang out near so much human activity.

“It’s an odd thing that it would come to the Bellagio fountains, where there are so many people,” Kurt Buzard of the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve tells FOX5 News’ Justine Verastigue and Mike Allen.

He adds that this individual is a younger bird and might have gotten lost while attempting to migrate up the coast, where most yellow-billed loons travel. “It’s really off-course here,” he tells the publication.

Out-of-place birds like this one are referred to as “vagrants.” Birds sometimes land in unusual locales due to storms—either because they got pushed off course or because they need to stop and rest. Birds use Earth’s magnetic field to navigate, so another possible theory is that disruptions to this field can cause them to lose their bearings.

Vagrants are a rare treat for birders. In December, bird watchers made their way to Corpus Christi to see a small South American bird called a cattle tyrant; it was the first time one of the creatures had ever been seen on the mainland north of Panama. Last summer, a roseate spoonbill landed near Green Bay, Wisconsin, and flamingos were spotted in nearly a dozen states.

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