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Happy Fourth of July: Loon Restoration Project Update

By Ethan Daly, Loon Restoration Team Technician

I was recently checking in on one of our new loon nesting raft sites near Gray, Maine. As I stood on the shore, speaking with a volunteer about how to minimize human disturbances to the raft, we watched two paddle boarders weave in between our strategically placed raft and nesting sign. For context, our nesting signs say “PLEASE STAY AWAY, LOONS NESTING.”

Loons Nesting signLuckily for the paddle boarders, the loons weren’t nesting on the raft at the time and had recently abandoned their nearby natural nesting site due to the noise from a float plane. The paddle boarders didn’t cause any disturbance that hadn’t already been done, but I still took the opportunity to inform them about the sign and do some outreach.

This was just one of many examples of disturbance I’ve seen in my three and a half months working on this project. I’ve seen passive fishing lines (lines left unattended) in the water next to nests, kayakers paddling five feet from rafts with nesting loons on them, and motorboats create wake that sends any loon within a 300-foot radius under water and out of site. And I saw each of these on random weekdays, not on a national holiday.

In a few days, hundreds of thousands of New Englanders, snowbirds, and people whose patriotism is lit on fire by hot dogs and sparklers, will be descending on our state waters to celebrate Independence Day. I love this holiday as much as the next American, but I can’t imagine loons are the biggest fans. From a brief search into our loon restoration archives, I found multiple incidents on July 4 over the years, including:

  • July 4, 2020, Chesterville: Nest empty and no chick after two July 4 fireworks events. Warden called before event. No restrictions issued to event organizer. Prior to July 4, 2 adults seen on pond. Only 1 ever seen after July 4.
  • July 4, 2020, Greenwood: Fourth of July boat flotilla party and/or fireworks alleged to have caused nest failure or chick loss. Large flotilla party with dozens of boats at island nest. Loons occupied nest as of July 3. Loons not on nest July 5 and no chick. Local debate as to whether nest failed or chick hatched but did not survive.
  • July 4, 2021, Otisfield: Pair of loons nested on shore. Residents put up sign. Nest was in play until July 4th weekend. After that it looked to be flushed and flooded, with no egg in sight.
  • July 4, 2022, Lebanon: Loon counter believes 4th of July fireworks caused damage to nesting area.

Now I will admit, many of these incidents are anecdotal; lots of cases of loons being on nests before the holiday and then after July 4, no longer. But there are common themes. For one, fireworks. Our friends at the Loon Preservation Committee (LPC) in Moultonborough, NH, wrote a quick report in September 2016 titled “Fireworks and Loons in New Hampshire.” They reported that there were not enough data to conclusively link loon nest failure or abandonment to fireworks use. They did find some anecdotal evidence that loons respond to fireworks with tremolos, wails, and yodels, indicating that loons are indeed stressed. Our recommendations for loons and fireworks fall in line with the LPC’s: avoid the use of fireworks near active loon nests and observe (or even better, photograph) firework use in loon territories as a means of gathering more evidence.

Another theme from the above incidents is flooding from wakes and disturbance by boats. In his dissertation titled “Evaluation of Disturbance Factors and Their Effect on Breeding Common Loons at Lake Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge, New Hampshire and Maine” Kyle P. McCarthy studied the Common Loon populations on Lake Umbagog. While this paper covers a variety of disturbances to breeding pairs of loons, one section stated that non-fishing motorboat, fishing motorboat, and kayak/canoe use all peaked on Fourth of July weekend. This peak coincided with a “noticeable decrease” in relaxed loon nesting behavior, specifically during the morning and early afternoons.

All this leads us to believe that the more boats, the more disturbance to loons and their families. Since 2016, loon mortality data suggests that blunt trauma has taken over as the leading cause of death for adult Common Loons. Blunt trauma was also implicated as a leading cause of death for loon chicks in a 25-year mortality study. Blunt trauma is often indicative of a boat strike, so it’s important to be mindful of loons near your boat path while on the water this Fourth of July. And consider moving your boat flotilla if a loon pair is known to be nesting nearby. Many eggs are due to hatch any day now!

It’s also important to be mindful of boat wake; seeing as most loons nest within a foot of the water’s edge, they are especially vulnerable to flooding by boat wakes. Be sure you know the latest regulations. All motor boats are required to travel at no-wake speeds when they are within 200 feet of shore or islands. While all boats can create wake that can flood a nest or wash out eggs, boats that create wakes large enough for people to surf can impact loon nests even as far as 500-600 feet offshore and in depths shallower than 20 feet! Earlier this year, a new law was implemented specifically to address wakesurfing activity. An Act to Implement Recommendations in the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Report on Wake Boats (LD 2284) was enacted on April 9, 2024. In its language, it states that a person is prohibited “from operating a motorboat in less than 15 feet of water or within 300 feet of the shoreline when the motorboat is engaged in a wakesurfing activity.” We hope boaters will respect these laws, slow down when moving through loon territory, and restrict wakesurfing activities to depths and distances even greater than required by law.

Loon House SignAs a wildlife-loving Maine Audubon newsletter reader, what can you do to help protect loons during the holiday festivities? You can wield the information in this article, as well as some from our collaborative outreach program with Maine Lakes, known as Look Out for Loons (LOFL). Founded in 2021, LOFL aims to raise awareness of actions we can take to better co-exist with loons. We do this through one-on-one conversations, presentations, and educational materials. Information on all of this and more can be found on our website’s Loon Restoration Project pages ( and also at One of our brochures, How Close is Too Close?, in particular helps lake users learn from loon behaviors if they are too close to loons and causing them distress.

My advice: engage in a friendly way with your neighbors by sharing your mutual love for holidays and loons, and talk about how the two don’t have to be at odds with one another. If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far working on this project, it’s that New Englanders, specifically Mainers, love loons. It’s why so many driveways I pass by on field days have ornamental loon house number signs. It’s why one of our license plates has a loon on it. And it’s why each new conversation I have with lake-goers leaves me feeling better about the Common Loon’s future than the last.

Happy Fourth of July from all of us on the Maine Audubon Loon Restoration Team. We hope it’s one filled with fun, laughter, and loon-friendly celebration.

Loon Restoration Project technician Ethan Daly, at a loon raft deployment in June