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Loons and Lead

proud loon parent

Photo by: Marie Shelden

Update: Fall 2013

LD 730: An Act to Protect Maine’s Loons by Banning Lead Sinkers and Jigs

Lead poisoning is the leading cause of death of adult loons in Maine; it is responsible for close to one third of the documented mortality over the past 25 years. LD 730 was passed by both the House and Senate; it bans the sale and use of lead fishing sinkers one ounce or less, as well as bare lead-headed jigs 2.5” long or less.

2013 also marks the 30th anniversary of the loon count, Maine Audubon’s longest-running citizen science effort. You can read about the history of the count, profiles of loon volunteers and purchase a commemorative loon necklace at

loon-xray-highlightWhy do loons ingest lead jigs and sinkers?

  • Adult loons catch fish with lost or broken lead jigs and sinkers or they accidentally pick up lead objects while eating gravel from lake bottoms.
  • Once ingested, lead objects quickly dissolve in loon gizzards, which elevates lead levels in blood and tissues and causes death in as little as two weeks.
  • Lead sinkers and jigs kill otherwise healthy adult loons that breed on Maine’s lakes and ponds.

Lead-headed jigs make up 58% of the lead objects recovered from lead-poisoned loons in Maine

  • Of 90 objects recovered from lead-poisoned loons that died between 1987 and 2012, 52 objects were lead jig heads.
  • Lead sinkers in a range of sizes continue to be a cause of death for adult loons in Maine, despite the 2002 ban on sinkers one-half ounce or less.

Alternative jigs and sinkers made from, tin, bismuth and tungsten are readily available

  • Lead-free sinkers and jigs are slightly more expensive than their lead counterparts, but are safe and nontoxic for people and wildlife.