Results of the 2016 Loon Count

Update: The 2017 Loon Count will be on Saturday, July 15th!
If you’d like to participate, please email for more information and to sign up.


It won’t be too long before the ice starts breaking up and our Common Loons wing in from the ocean to set up for another summer on Maine’s beautiful lakes and ponds. But while they’ve been away, staff at Maine Audubon have stayed busy collating, entering, proofreading, and analyzing the reams of loon count data we receive every fall.

We are grateful for the 896 counters who contributed data from 304 lakes and ponds across the state of Maine. From their observations we calculate an estimate for the loon population in the southern half of the state (south of the 45th parallel, roughly south of a line from Rangeley to Calais).

This year’s estimate is 2,848 adults and 384 chicks. For adult loons, this is virtually the same as last year’s estimate of 2,817 adults, although it is about 7% lower than the average of the previous five years, which was 3,069 adults. Overall, though, the long-term trend remains positive (see graph below).

Download the full results of the 2016 Loon Count (PDF).

Last summer was dry, with many loon counters reporting very low water levels and historic nest sites on many lakes inaccessible to breeding loons. With that in mind, and with anecdotal evidence reported by counters early in the season, we were expecting a low chick estimate. So we were pleasantly surprised to find we had a 76% increase in the estimate of chicks compared to last year.  Looking back over the last 15 years, it is the third highest chick estimate on record.

One explanation for 2016’s high chick count is that with low water levels, loons might have delayed breeding until later in the summer. So we might have counted more very young chicks. Chick loss to predation during the first week of life is high, so in 2016 we might have counted some chicks who in most years might not have survived until the Loon Count day. Another possibility is that with the change in lake levels, loons might have moved to new, more productive nest sites where they experienced less predation and less flooding. 

Loon Project staff are busy with several other projects this spring that will help us shed light on loon conservation and build the robustness of the Maine Loon Count as it moves ahead into it’s 34th year:

Loon Phenology
The Maine Loon Project is partnering with the Signs of the Seasons program to train volunteers how to report the stages of loon chick phenology they observe throughout the summer. This is an easy way to volunteer your time and help build a dataset around the timing of chick hatching, predation, and fledging.

Loon Data Portal
The Maine Loon Project received two different grants to build a web interface for loon count participants who want to report their data online. This year, the website will be released to a small number of counters to test the site and work out any glitches in data entry. Then it will be available to all counters for the 35th annual count in 2018!

How Many Breeding Pairs?
While the Maine Loon Count has always focused on numbers of adults and numbers of chicks, one of the most interesting questions we want to ask is how many of that total number are breeders? We know when loons hang out together in large groups of three or more, they are probably not breeders. For the last three loon counts, we’ve asked counters to differentiate between individual loons, pairs of loons, and large groups of loons. We are currently working with statisticians to review and analyze this data, and hope to have a report out soon on the results.

The 2017 Loon Count will be on Saturday, July 15th!
If you’d like to participate, please email for more information and to sign up.