FALMOUTH — For nearly 40 years, Maine Audubon has been studying threats to loons and engaging volunteers across Maine in conservation efforts. One of its most powerful and popular tools is the Annual Loon Count, scheduled this year for Saturday, July 17, from 7-7:30 a.m.
This event has engaged more than a thousand volunteers since 1983. On the third Saturday of July, participants head out in skiffs, kayaks and pontoon boats to tally the common loons they see on more than 300 lakes across the state. Last year, even with the pandemic, 1,347 volunteers of all ages and 48 regional coordinators were able to carry on this outdoor tradition.
Maine Audubon uses the statewide snapshot to estimate the annual population and track population trends across the decades. The information helps biologists, state officials and Maine lake users understand more about the loons’ status and the health of Maine’s lakes.
Maine is fortunate to house the largest common loon population in the Northeast and the Annual Loon Count is a vital part of Maine’s efforts to safeguard this population.
“The count gives us a window into the status and changes in Maine’s common loon population over time,” says Tracy Hart, Maine Audubon wildlife ecologist, who leads the annual loon count.
Currently, Maine’s loon population is going strong. Since the loon count’s inception in 1983, the number of adult loons in the southern half of the state has essentially doubled, from an initial estimate of fewer than 1,500 to nearly 3,000 in 2020. This is because of conservation efforts like the Maine lead tackle ban and the Fish Lead Free Initiative (fishleadfree.org/me) that have helped reduce the number of adult loons that die from swallowing lead tackle.
However, other threats are increasing.
“As motorboat operators, kayakers and other lake users are getting back out on the water this year,” says Hart, “please remember that trauma from collisions with boats is a leading cause of loon deaths and the toll is rising. Boat wakes can also flood nests and disturbance can cause loons to abandon their nests. We encourage people to slow down, especially near islands and lakeshores, stay away from loon families, and learn to read the signs – like a tremolo (loon distress call) – that loons use to tell you that you’re just too close. Also, as you plan for your Fourth of July celebrations, please take extra care to look out for loon families trying to stay safe amongst the holiday boat traffic. Just as it is for our pets, the noise and lights of fireworks can be alarming and even harmful for wildlife.”