Maine is home to the largest population of loons in the Northeast, but they still need our help to thrive. The Maine Loon Restoration Project is a five-year project, funded by an oil spill settlement, that aims to give Maine loons better chances for breeding success and reduce threats to their survival.
The Maine Loon Restoration Project aims to increase loon nesting success and decrease loon mortality by engaging volunteers in four efforts:
- Placing artificial nests (rafts);
- Monitoring productivity of loon rafts;
- Expanding Fish Lead Free programs to reduce lead tackle use and loon lead poisoning;
- Launching a Loon Rangers Program to reduce disturbance to loons and increase nesting success through education and outreach.
The goal of the raft program is to increase the number of loon chicks hatched through placement and monitoring of nearly 100 loon nesting rafts through 2026 in territories with low nesting success. When used in the right ways and right situations, rafts have been helping loon pairs hatch chicks for more than 50 years. They can be a great tool for loons that consistently fail to produce chicks<–but rafts must be used correctly and in the right situations or they can actually hurt the chances of a successful nest.
A raft should not be used if there is not enough information about the loons’ nesting history or the reasons that nesting has been unsuccessful. In addition, it’s important to consider if loons on the lake are actually in trouble. Loons aren’t successful at nesting 100% of the time. Just because they don’t hatch chicks every year, doesn’t mean they need our help.
A good rule to follow: If a pair successfully raises a chick at least once every three years, they probably don’t need our help!
• Maine Audubon will be holding workshops on raft building in the late summer or fall for 2023 deployment. If you think your lake is a candidate for a raft, email email@example.com for more information.
• For more background on the project, watch this video! In this webinar (February 2022), we talk about this new effort to increase the number of loon chicks that survive on Maine’s lakes and ponds and how you can be involved. The project needs teams of volunteers all over the state to help with many different education, outreach, and management activities.
• Want to learn more? We hosted two webinars to review the loon raft program, loon raft construction, and discussed when an artificial raft should be used on a lake and what type of raft would work best. To learn more about raft placement and the advantages and disadvantages of modular and cedar rafts, check out the recorded webinar.
Placing a raft involves much more than just placing a raft. Proper placement, monitoring and maintenance are important! Rafts are a serious investment of time and take active management. Rafts are placed in the spring, soon after ice out, and need to be taken out of the water and properly stored every fall. Throughout the season, volunteers will monitor the loons and rafts, collecting detailed data on loon behavior and use of the rafts.
Resources for Loon Nest Monitoring:
In addition, you will need to review and familiarize yourself with the resources below before beginning loon monitoring. Be sure to print out copies of the survey form, incident form, season summary, reference sheet and a map of your lake to bring on the water with you for your survey. In addition, use the resources below to learn how close is too close when you’re surveying nesting loons.
Maine Common Loon Breeding Survey Form
Incident Report Form
Season Summary Form
Reference Sheet for Monitoring
Loon Lake Maps
Loon Stress Behaviors
Clues to Nest Failure
Loon Band Sighting Guide
More on loon behavior
Maine Audubon has been involved in Fish Lead Free programs for years. With this grant we’re expanding the program to include more tackle exchanges, include more retailers in our tackle buyback program, and increase the number of lead tackle and monofilament line collection bins.
• Interested in hosting a lead tackle exchange on your lake? We can provide brochures, stickers, and other education materials, as well as lead-free tackle to give out to people who turn in their old lead tackle. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to start planning your event.
• Would you like to put up a lead tackle and monofilament line collection bin at your boat ramp? Maine Audubon can provide construction plans and reimbursement for any materials purchased. Email email@example.com for more information.
Officially launching in 2023, the Loon Rangers program will include training volunteers throughout Maine to conduct outreach to lake users to reduce disturbance and loon deaths from boat strikes; and working with volunteers to place Look Out for Loon signs and brochures at boat ramps and kiosks, and nesting signs where appropriate.
Loon Rangers will receive training in identifying loon stress behaviors so they can help educate people about when they are too close to a loon or a nest (which can lead to nest abandonment).
• Interested in being a part of the Loon Ranger program? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the contact list for training information.
•To find out if your lake and nesting area is a good fit for Look out for Loon signs, email email@example.com to be sure your situation meets the criteria to place a loon nesting sign.
• Read this brochure for a guide to loon behavior: How Close is Too Close: An Overview of Loon Stress Behaviors
On the afternoon of Sunday, April 27, 2003, just south of Westport, Massachusetts, an oil tanker operated by the Bouchard Transportation Company passed on the wrong side of a navigational marker and struck rocks underwater, gouging a 12-foot hole in its hull. In the hours that followed, 98,000 gallons of heavy #6 fuel flowed into Buzzards Bay.
Oil washed up along 100 miles of beaches, rocky shoreline, marshes and tidal flats. 76 loons were found dead and 128 oiled loons collected, of which only 9 survived. More oiled loons continued to be found over the following summer.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) estimated that 531 Common Loons over-wintering or migrating through the area of the spill died as a result of the spill. Eighteen years after the spill, in 2021, a settlement was reached with the company responsible for the spill through Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program (NRDAR). The natural resources damage settlement from this spill, announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on June 16, 2021, has led to funding for restoration of loons on their breeding grounds, and Maine Audubon is pleased to be one of the funding recipients. Maine Audubon’s proposal for the five-year Maine Loon Restoration Project, A Comprehensive Approach by Maine Partners to Restore Common Loon Losses Resulting from the B-120 Oil Spill, was awarded $825,445. This project is a collaboration between Maine Audubon, Maine Lakes, Lakes Environmental Association, and the Penobscot Indian Nation.
• Read more about the grant funding here
Maine Audubon leads the effort while partnering with Maine Lakes, Lakes Environmental Association, and the Penobscot Nation. In addition, Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation, Vermont Center for Ecostudies, Loon Preservation Committee, and Biodiversity Research Institute received grants and are working on projects of their own.
In addition, we would like to thank the following organizations and groups for their support and assistance:
Robinson Raft – Many hours of time and energy in teaching about, organizing, and coordinating the modular rafts for the project
Gnome Landscaping – Donation of landscape cloth
Garbage to Garden – Generous donation of 200lbs of compost
Kittery Trading Post – Discount on canoe purchase and top supporter of our Fish Lead Free tackle exchange program. KTP has held events resulting in over 50lbs of lead tackle turned in and out of Maine’s waters!