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The Maine Loon Project

nesting-loons-june-leduc Common Loons are one of Maine’s most charismatic wildlife species, representing the wild and remote nature of much of our great state. The Maine Loon Project has worked for decades to assess the status and future of Maine’s loon population, from annual loon counts to advocacy in the state legislature. Staff and our citizen scientists have worked to promote clean water, healthy lakes and quality habitat for loon populations today and into the future.

If you want to participate in the 2016 Annual Loon Count on July 16th, please fill out the contact form below and we’ll be in touch with more details in June. Thanks for your interest!

Annual Loon Count – July 16, 2016

On the morning of the third Saturday of July each year, more than 900 volunteers venture onto lakes and ponds across the state to count loons. Their reports provide an excellent “snapshot” of Maine’s loon population. To sign up for this year’s count, contact Susan Gallo at (207) 781-6180 x. 216 or e-mail [email protected] with your name, address and the lake or general area where you would like to count.  We would love to have your help!

Loon Count Results

2015 Loon Count Results

Rarely does a Maine summer day start out with such bad weather as it did on Saturday, July 18, 2015. Unfortunately, for Maine Audubon’s dedicated corps of loon counters, this was also the morning of the 32nd annual loon count. Counters reported every form of rain imaginable, from hard and steady to showers and mists, along with fog, wind, and even a little bit of thunder. A very few counters enjoyed a glimpse of sun, but for the most part the dismal conditions ranged across the state from north to south and east to west. More than 850 hearty souls braved the soggy conditions to search their lake, or their piece of lake, to find and report back the number of adults and chicks they saw.

The 2015 loon count estimate for the southern half of the state, extrapolated from a sample of the 290 lakes included in the count, is 2,818 adults and 218 chicks. For adults, this represents a drop of just over 10% from 2014, and a drop of 15% from the all-time high count of 3,220 in 2010. While the estimate for chicks dropped by an even steeper bit (30%), that’s really not unusual. Chick numbers typically vacillate fairly widely from year to year, with some of the bigger drops and gains being on the order of 60-75% from year to year.

What does this mean for loon conservation in Maine? For sure, the bad weather had an impact on loon detectability. Rain, waves and chop make spotting loons more difficult, and loons may have hunkered down in sheltered wetlands or other hard-to-see locations to wait out the rain. Because the loon count is held rain or shine, we occasionally run into these kinds of count days, and in general we look at the long term trend as opposed to any specific year to year change. Loons continue to do well in Maine despite the many challenges they face on our waters, from lead sinkers, speeding boats, high waves, predators, and disease. We continue to expand our loon count, asking counters to record not just number of loons but also how many were in groups, pairs or alone to try to get an idea of breeding (isolated individuals or pairs) vs. non-breeders (who tend to hang out in larger groups).

And one note for those of you wondering if all that cold driving rain harms loons, the answer is both yes and no. Physically, loons are fine. They are adapted to both cold air and cold water, with their feathers providing excellent warmth and waterproofing. Young chicks can ride on their parents backs to stay warm and dry. The downside of too much rain is flooding. If loons are still sitting on their nests, those big rainstorms can dramatically change lake levels, which in turn wash eggs right out of lakeside nests.

Many loons will renest if this happens early in the season, but if it happens too many times or high water levels eliminate too much nesting habitat, loons will give up on nesting altogether.

Historic Loon Count Results

loon count

Interactive Loon Count Map

Thanks to volunteer Chris Kittredge- Corson GIS Solutions, we now have an exciting way to view loon count results. Click on the map below and look for any lake with active loon counts (highlighted in darker blue). Clicking on those lakes will pop-up a table with loon count results over the last three decades. Search by town to zoom to lakes in your area or pan around the state and see where the loons are each year.

Browse 2013 and past data with our new map »


Common Loons in the Classroom Curriculum

Maine Audubon has developed a classroom curriculum for grades 3 through 6 centered around the loon and its lake habitat. For more information, visit the Common Loons in the Classroom page.

Help Assess Loon Habitat Quality

As a result of a 2012-13 TogetherGreen Fellowship, Susan Gallo, wildlife biologist and director of the Maine Loon Project at Maine Audubon, has put together a Citizen Science initiative to rank lake habitat quality for loons. She is looking for volunteers who would like to go out on Maine lakes and spend a few hours assessing different habitat factors, like level of lakeside development, recreational use of the lake and loon nesting sites. Visit the Habitat Quality pages for everything you need to get started, including the instructions and datasheet .

Spread the Word!

There are lots of ways you can help with the outreach and education activities of the Maine Loon Project. Schedule a presentation of “The State of Maine’s Loons” for your local garden club, lake association or civic group. This 45-minute multi-media presentation walks you through a year in the life of a loon in Maine and features stunning photographs from recent loon photo contests at Maine Audubon. You can also distribute “Living in Loon Territory” brochures to your town office, library or lake association meeting. This large-format brochure has information about how to live alongside loons and highlights times of the year when they or their chicks are most vulnerable. For more information about any of these outreach efforts, contact Susan at [email protected] or (207) 781-6180 x.216. Thanks for your help!

If You Find an Injured Loon…

We receive reports every summer of injured loons on our lakes and ponds or loons with their bills wrapped in fishing line. Unfortunately, Maine Audubon does not have the staff, expertise or equipment to help with any loon “rescues.” The Warden Service at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife may be able to help or biologists from Biodiversity Research Institute are sometimes out trapping loons and may be able to assist if it is convenient to their work site.

If You Find a Dead Loon…

The Wildlife Clinic at Tufts University (MA) collects dead loons from across New England to determine the cause of death. If you find a dead loon and you are willing to collect the body, please double wrap it in two garbage bags and get it into a freezer ASAP.  The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is usually willing to share freezer space if you can get the carcass to one of their regional offices. Either way, please call Susan Gallo at (207) 781-6180 x. 216 to let her know so she can add you to the Maine Audubon permit for bird collections.