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2012 Loon Count Results

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013
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Common Loon Population Estimate from 1986 to 2012, in the southern half of Maine.

Common Loon Population Estimate from 1986 to 2012, in the southern half of Maine.

As the 30th annual loon count approaches (on Saturday, July 20, 2013), it’s a good time to look back and see what happened in 2012.  The following was published in the winter issue of Habitat (though the typo with the incorrect loon count date has been fixed!):

More than 800 people joined forces the morning of July 21st, 2012, to count loons on 336 lakes across the state, from way up north in St. Agatha to way down south in Shapleigh, and from Perry downeast to Davis Township out west.  Altogether, these intrepid volunteers counted a total of 2,007 adult loons and 148 loon chicks.  From all their reports, we’ve taken a sample and estimated the loon population in the southern half of the state, from the 45th parallel, roughly from Calais to Rangeley, south. 

The estimate this year fell about 10% from the 2012 high of 3,302 adults, to 2,977 adults.  This is not too surprising, as the year after a record high count typically drops between 10% and 20%.  This might be because adults have dispersed after being too “crowded” the year before, or it might be because yet another wet and rainy spring flooded nesting areas early in the season, causing would-be breeders to give up.  That’s almost certainly what accounted for some of the drastic drop of 70% in the chick estimate, from an all-time high of 619 in 2012 to just 179 last summer.  Chick numbers seem to go up and then down from year to year, never growing to match the number of adults we see on Maine’s lakes and ponds, but a low estimate is always a worry, especially in terms of long-term conservation for a bird species that is long-lived, doesn’t reproduce for a long time after hatching (average age at first breeding is seven years), and only in rare years will produce two chicks that survive to maturity (most often only a chick every other year, on average).

One way to invest in a more secure future for Maine’s loon chicks is to minimize human-caused mortality.  To help do that, Maine Audubon has introduced legislation to extend the ban on the sale of lead sinkers from a half ounce or less up to one ounce, including the use as well as sale, and to include jigheads up to 2 1/2 inches long.  A recent analysis of loon mortality showed almost 30% of adult loons collected from Maine died from the ingestion of lead fishing tackle between 1987 and 2012, and that about half of those died from the ingestion of lead-headed jigs.  For up-to-date information about the status of the legislation, visit our advocacy pages. Or contact Loon Project Director Susan Gallo ([email protected]) FMI or to sign up for the 30th annual loon count on July 20, 2013.


Loons and Real Estate: It’s all about Location, Location, Location

Friday, September 21st, 2012
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Loon on Nest

The Pemaquid Watershed Association will host a presentation about loon habitat by Maine Audubon wildlife biologist Susan Gallo at the Friends’ Meeting House, 77 Belvedere Road in Damariscotta on Tuesday, October 2, from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m.

Gallo will answer many Common Loon questions, including: Why do loons choose to nest on one Maine lake and not another? Why do some loons successfully raise chicks year after year while others seem to never give up the bachelor lifestyle? Audience members will learn more about where loons are in Maine every summer and how they can participate in Maine Audubon’s new study designed to answer some of the more intriguing loon “real estate” questions. Lakeside residents are vital to Maine Audubon’s efforts and can help collect information about the features of loon lakes that might help or hinder loon nesting and success every summer. Come to learn more about the loon habitat study and loon natural history in this multi-media presentation.


Should I build a loon nesting platform?

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012
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Loon nesting on an man-made nesting platform. Photo by Turner Ragsdale

There’s not much to a loon’s nest, just a simple mound of vegetation and muck scooped from the water’s edge. Loons nest right beside the water so they can slip on and off the nest easily, quickly, and quietly, without being seen by predators. When all goes well, a loon pair will incubate their eggs for about 29 days, then leave with their newly hatched chicks to spend the rest of the summer on open water.

But often, in Maine, things don’t go quite like that.  Heavy rainfall in early summer, like the June rains of 2012, can lead to rapid water level rises of a foot or more. The eggs sitting atop a loon nest can simply float away.

But loons have options.  They can start over again if their eggs disappear, remounding vegetation, often fairly close to the first nest site.  And if the rainy June evolves into a dry July, the loons will be able to keep the next batch of eggs warm and dry.  But even with moderate weather, keeping lake water levels constant can be an issue, especially if dams on the lake are adjusted to raise and lower water levels throughout the breeding season in June and July.  This is the case where a man-made loon nesting platform makes the most sense, and where they are likely to get the most use.

Here are some quick thoughts, tips, and links on loon nesting platforms that will help you make an informed decision about putting one out on a lake or pond near you.  See the platform links below for much more detailed information on raft construction.

If a lake has loons that breed successfully, year after year, a platform will not likely be used.  Platforms can be a good management tool when changes in water level, or persistent mainland predators, result in egg losses year after year.  We suggest you watch a loon pair for a couple of years, documenting where their territory boundaries are, where they are attempting to nest, and if they are successful at hatching out eggs, before deciding to place a platform. Loons are never 100% successful, and an occasional loss of an egg may not warrant placing a platform.  Consistent losses of eggs over three or more years, due to predation or water level changes, makes a good case for experimenting with a platform.

Making and maintaining a nesting platform is a serious investment of time and money.  Take a look at “traditional” cedar raft plans as well as plans for an “eternal” platform design from Wisconsin.  Whatever route you choose, platforms need to go in the water early in the season, as close to ice out as possible.  Loons start defending their territories and looking around for nest sites as soon as they return in early spring.  The sooner the platform is out, the greater the chance that it will be seriously considered by loons as a place to nest.  Platforms need to be securely anchored to the lake bottom, and watched throughout the summer to make sure they stay put. Putting platforms in quiet coves, away from wave action and in deep enough water that they will not be stranded if water levels drop, will improve chances of success.

It can take up to three years for a loon pair to use a loon platform, so patience is required!  Don’t give up if the loons don’t immediately take to the platform.  They are likely checking it out, and evaluating how good a nest site it might be.  Keep putting the platform out in the spring (and taking it in in the fall), and give it at least three years to see if it works. If after three years the loons are staying away, there’s probably something not right with the location.  Or they may just not like it.  See the raft plans for more details on good raft locations.  If loons are successful on natural nest sites, they may never change to the platform.

Never place a loon nesting platform without having a rough idea of where loon pairs are on a lake.  Drawing in a new loon pair, or causing conflict by placing a raft between two existing territories, can do more harm than good, and can cause additional nest failure, exactly what you are trying to avoid with the platform in the first place!

For much more detailed information about the science behind raft placements, read Chris DeSorbo’s 2008 article in the Northeastern NaturalistFor printed copies of raft plans, e-mail [email protected].   And as always, visit the Maine Loon Project home page for more information about loons in Maine.


Interactive Loon Count Map

Friday, June 1st, 2012
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For 27 years, volunteers across the state have been rising early on “Loon Count Day” (always the third Saturday in July) and counting all the loons they can find on their assigned lake or pond from 7:00 to 7:30 a.m.  Now, all that count data is available to the public on an interactive map.  Click on any dark blue lake to see the results for that lake, or search by town to locate a lake near you.  Results for each year of the count for the whole state, including the 2011 count, can also be found at the bottom of the Maine Loon Project home page.  To sign up for the 2012 loon count, on July 21st, please e-mail Susan Gallo, [email protected] with the town, lake, or general area where you’d be willing to count.