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Protect Nesting Loons and Loon Chicks

Few birding experiences rival hearing the haunting call of the loon or seeing them glide by in protected coves on a lake.  However, for the birds’ protection, Vermont Fish and Wildlife is asking boaters and anglers to enjoy loons from a safe distance this summer.

“Loons were removed from Vermont’s endangered species list in 2005, but they face continued threats from human disturbance during the breeding season and ingestion of fishing gear,” said Rosalind Renfrew, wildlife biologist with Vermont Fish and Wildlife.

“Many areas where loons nest on Vermont’s lakes are surrounded by signs reminding people to give loons the space they need, but not all nesting areas are marked.  We’re asking people to enjoy loons from a distance rather than approaching them, whether you are in a boat or on shore.” 

Renfrew also reminds people to avoid using lead fishing tackle.  Every year Vermont loons die from lead poisoning after swallowing fishing tackle.  Lead sinkers weighing one-half ounce or less are prohibited in Vermont, but larger tackle­­­ still has the capacity to slough off lead into the environment over time.  Renfrew also recommends anglers to be careful to not attract loons to their bait and lures, and especially to not leave any fishing line behind as it can entangle and kill loons.

Eric Hanson, biologist with the Vermont Loon Conservation Project and Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE), asks anglers to reel in for a few minutes if loons are diving nearby.  To give anglers a place to discard their lead tackle, VCE will be placing collection tubes for lead tackle and discarded fishing line at over 20 boat access areas beginning this summer.   VCE coordinates the loon project in partnership with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.

Hanson and his colleagues monitor Vermont’s loon population and have put out game cameras around loon nests to monitor the behavior of people around them.  Hanson says most people are respectful of nesting loons and give them space, but people sometimes inadvertently harm loons without meaning to.

“Loon chicks can be difficult to see, so we ask motorboaters to note where loon families are and to avoid those areas,” said Hanson.  “We also ask that motorboaters obey ‘no wake’ laws within 200 feet of shorelines because boat wakes can flood and destroy shoreline loon nests.” 

 As Vermont’s loon population continues to increase and canoeing and kayaking continues to become more popular, there is greater potential for people to come into conflict with loons.    Hanson reminds boaters to avoid pursuing loons in a canoe or kayak, especially loons with young. 

“Occasionally a loon will be curious and approach people, and if that happens, just enjoy it,” said Hanson.  “However, loons that are constantly swimming away from you are stressed and may abandon their young if they feel they are in danger.”

Hanson also urges shoreline property owners to maintain appropriate habitat for loons, including shrubby and forested areas along shorelines, where loons can nest.  Having shrubs and trees instead of lawns along shorelines also improves water quality which is essential for healthy lakes, aquatic insects, fish eggs, fish, and loons.

Volunteers interested in monitoring loons for the Loon Conservation Project should contact Hanson at  Volunteers can monitor lakes all summer long with a focus on lakes with loon pairs and nesting. 

Volunteers can also survey one or two lakes on Loonwatch Day, being held on July 20 this year, between 8 and 9 a.m.  The goal is to survey all lakes greater than 20 acres at the same time, which provides a population count and checks on small lakes that are surveyed less often during the rest of year.