State of the Loons

October 16, 2019

A Maine summer is incomplete without a sighting of a Common Loon. These stunning waterfowl are emblematic of Maine’s inland lakes and rivers, as much a part of our identify as puffins and lobsters. 

But how much do you really know about our resident Common Loons? Maine Audubon knows quite a bit, having conducted an annual population survey in the state for more than 35 years, and we’re excited to share our knowledge with Martin’s Point during a State of the Loons talk on Wednesday October 30th at 5:30pm in our Community Center at our Scarborough Health Care Center on Route 1.

Common Loons are renowned for their beauty, both in plumage and in song. Their breeding plumage, worn in spring and summer, is an intricate lattice of black and white, as elaborate and detailed as any bird in Maine. Their vocalizations are for many the soundtrack of a Maine summer evening. We’ll play these calls during State of the Loons, and translate them into plain English to help the audience evesdrop on these birds next summer.

We’ll also discuss the surprisingly eventful life cycle of Common Loons. Though they appear to have a serene lifestyle on our lakes and ponds, the life of a Common Loon is surprisingly active, filled with territorial battles, nest defense, the non-stop attention to chicks, and a whole lot of catching fish. 

Common Loon photo credit: Ben Tripp

Photo Credit; Maine Audubon

But how are Maine’s loons doing? That was the question Maine Audubon asked itself 36 years ago, before we started our annual Loon Count. Now grown to more than 1,300 volunteers counting loons during a single morning each summer, the Maine Audubon Loon Count has been instrumental in tracking population trends and identifying threats to the health of loons in Maine.

Our research has revealed many threats. Loons nests are raided by skunks and mink, and the chicks are preyed on from above by eagles and below by large fish. Humans, of course, are the largest threat, ruining nests by driving boats too closely, or scaring birds off the nests. Warming lakes and water pollution both threaten the food sources that loons rely on for survival.

2017 Maine Audubon Loon Count by Ariana Van Den Akker

Perhaps the most direct human threat to loons come from discarded lead fishing tackle, accidentally ingested by loons. Lead has the same effects on loons as it does on humans, causing illness and death. Maine Audubon has taken its findings on lead tackle to August and has helped pass important legislation working to keep lead out of our lakes and ponds, though there is more work to do.

So how are Maine’s loons doing? Well, I don’t want to spoil it here, so you’ll have to find out for yourself on October 30th! Nick Lund, Maine Audubon’s Outreach and Network Manager, will lead the discussion about one of Maine’s more recognizable and beloved species, and tell you all you need to know about the state of the loons.

About the Author and Speaker

Nick Lund is Maine Audubon’s Network and Outreach Manager. He’s a native of Falmouth, Maine and writes regular columns on birds and birding for the National Audubon Society. He also maintains The Birdist blog.