North American Loon Symposium


After more than a year of planning, the North American Loon Symposium is almostupon us!  Maine Audubon is a sponsor of the symposium. I will be going out to northern Wisconsin next week to help support the conference, present on our Fish Lead-Free initiative and co-chair a working group on Research Directions and Conservation Strategies.  With over 100 people registered for the conference from across the country and more than 40 presenters, it will be a great opportunity to learn about what is new in the world of loon conservation.

I am especially excited about the working groups and the opportunity to broaden our thinking about the big issues for loon conservation and how we might work across states and regions to address them. I also have a goal of reaching out to colleagues in other states about our successful Fish Lead Free initiative, and to work toward a more uniform approach to our outreach efforts.  We can be more effective with our outreach if we are consistent in our messaging and our lead-free “brand”.  If we can develop some logos and outreach pieces that multiple states can use, we will send a more consistent message to anglers.  We’ve already talked to folks in the northeast, and next week we will be able to expand that conversation.  Check back again!  I’ll post the highlights of the conference after I return.


Stearns Pond: Loon Necropsy

Stearns Pond Sweden, ME Found June 29, 2014

Stearns Pond
Sweden, ME
Found June 29, 2014

Loon necropsies provide us with a good way to assess threats to the loon population.. Through these necropsies, we learned that lead poisoning is the leading cause of death for our loons.  Each necropsy begins with an x- ray, followed by an internal exam of all the organs.  This loon was found this summer on Stearns pond in Sweden Maine.  Based on the initial x-ray, I thought this bird died from lead poisoning because I could see  fishing gear in his gizzard. However, none of this fishing gear ended up being lead.  With every necropsy, you start by examining the external features of the bird. We look for any external wounds, broken bones, dislocated joints, and external parasites. In the case of this bird, I found abrasions and bruising on his feet and around his left eye. He had no broken bones or dislocated joints and I found no external parasites.

Both his left and right feet were bruised. They both had abrasions as well.

Both his left and right feet had scrapes and bruises.

Next, we examine the internal anatomy for any abnormalities. These include any discoloration, lesions, pre-mortem clots, parasites, organ enlargement or atropy and foreign bodies. This loon was  in great body condition. He  had plenty of fat and  great muscle mass. One of the first abnormalities I noted was abdominal bruising on the lower part of his body. He also had a large pre-mortem clot on the underside of his sternum, as well as a lot of blood in his air sacs.

The lower part of his abdomen was bruised.

The lower part of his abdomen was bruised.

He had a large pre-mortem blood clot under his sternum on the left side of his body.

He had a large pre-mortem blood clot under his sternum on the left side of his body.

His organs, including his heart, lungs, liver and pancreas looked normal. The exception was his spleen, which was greatly enlarged. We confirmed  his sex as well. Female loons only have  a single ovary, whereas the males have two testes. Based on all the abnormalities found, we try and come up with cause of death. In this case, the bruising on his abdomen, combined with the large blood clot on his sternum and an enlarged spleen suggests blunt force trauma.  While it is  difficult to say exactly what caused his injuries,  he could have been hit by a boat or even crash landed somewhere.  If you find a dead or injured loon, please call our loon hotline:  (207)-781- 6180 ext. 275.  

What factors influence loon nesting success?

loon with eggIdeal loon nesting sites are located in less developed areas where human disturbance is minimal. They are often located near the water’s edge on the leeward side of islands or peninsulas. However, many factors influence loon nesting success. These include:

  • Fluctuating water levels caused either by dams or storms events can interfere with nesting success. High water levels can flood the nest, while low water levels make it more difficult for loons to slip on and off the nest undetected by predators.
  • Human activity can reduce nesting success, driving loons off their nests. During the summer, when loons are driven off nest, high temperatures can kill the eggs. Boat collisions can separate chicks from their parents, as well as cause chick and adult mortality. Additionally, there are more egg predation events in developed areas because raccoon, skunk and crow numbers are generally higher in these areas.
  • Predation is an important factor limiting nesting success. Raccoons, skunks, crows, minks, otters, birds of prey, snapping turtles and even large fish pose dangers for either eggs or chicks.
  • High insect numbers can drive loons off nest. In Wisconsin, 70% of loons nests were abandoned this year because of black flies
  • Loons with higher mercury levels have less nesting success. High mercury levels interfere with egg development and decrease the number of hatched eggs. Lead poisoning can also interfere with the ability of loons to take care of their chicks.



Moberg, G. Loons abandon their eggs due to black fly outbreak in Northern Wisconsin. WPR(2014).Accessed July27th 2014.From:

Radomski, P.J., Carlsom, K., & Woizeschke, K. Common Loon(Gavia immer) nesting habitat models for north-central Minnosota lakes. Journal of the Waterbird Society 37 (2014): 102-117.

Schoch, N., Glennon, M.J., Evers, D.C., Duron, M., Jackson, A.K., Driscoll, C.T., Ozard, J.W. & Sauer, A.K. The impact of mercury exposure on the Common Loon (Gavia immer) population in the Adirondack park, New York, USA. Journal of the Waterbird Society 37 (2014): 133-146.

Spilman, C.A., Schoch, N., Porter, W.F., * Glennon, M.J. The effects of lakeshore development on Common Loon (Gavia immer) productivity in the Adirondack park, New York, USA. Journal of the Waterbird Society 37 (2014): 94-101



Are painted lead jigs any safer for loons?

Starting in 2016, the sale of bare-lead headed jigs will be banned, followed by a ban on their use in 2017. However, the sale and use of painted lead jigs will remain legal. Does the paint protect loons from direct lead exposure? See what happens when a painted lead jig is placed in a rock tumbler. The conditions in the tumbler simulate the mechanical grinding inside a loon’s gizzard.

Brand New

Brand New

Day 1


five last

Day 5

Day 7

Day 7


Day 12

By day 12, the majority of the paint was eroded from the jig, making the painted lead jig no different and no less toxic from a bare headed lead jig.

Where to buy lead-free tackle in Maine

I’m working on compiling a list of tackle shops in Maine where people can buy lead- free tackle. If you know other shops selling lead-free tackle, email me at

  1. The Tackle Shop: (207)-773-3474, 61 India St, Portland, ME 04101
  2. Saco Bay Tackle Shop: (207)-284-4453, 977 Portland Rd, Saco, ME 04072
  3. Luke’s Reel Repair: (207)-985-2492, 737 Alewive Rd, Kennebunk, ME 04043
  4. Mainely Bait & Tackle: (207)-993-3031, 1340 N Palermo Rd, Palermo, ME 04354
  5. M.C.W. Bait & Tackle: (207)-642-3039, 60 Fort Hill Rd, Standish, Maine 04084
  6. Moosehead Bait and Tackle: (207)-534-226, Jackman Rd, Rockwood, ME 04478

My first night capturing and banding loons

Killingbeck_Beaver Cove#2

As soon as the sun went down, the capture began.  We set off Tuesday evening from Gorham, Maine and headed to Crystal Lake in Massachusetts. The banding team included a veterinarian, two field biologists and me. We took off from shore in a canoe. One person drove the boat. Another person searched for loons. I sat at the front of the boat, illuminating the lake with a spot light. At first all we saw were geese. Then suddenly we spotted a pair of loons with their two chicks. I kept the light focused on the loons as we moved the canoe towards them. To draw the loons closer to us, we played recorded loon calls. Next, the actual capture began, which, from my perspective, went down extraordinarily fast. In what felt like seconds, the loons were scooped up head first into the net and out of the water. Our first capture was the female loon followed later by the male loon with their two chicks.  With the loon wrapped in a towel, we headed back to shore to take measurements, band the bird and take blood samples. As I sat holding this loon, I learned some important things.  One, when holding a bird, always wear pants. Capturing and banding loons, while exciting, is not glamorous work. In addition to the thick clouds of bugs surrounding me, my legs were covered in a layer of bird poop by the end of the night.  My running shorts provided me with little protection. Thankfully, vet school has done wonders improving my tolerance for gross things. Two, loons are strong birds. It was more difficult than I had envisioned holding down both her legs and wings as everyone rushed to complete everything.  The night ended around four thirty in the morning when I rolled or rather collapsed into bed.  The loon family was safely returned to the water and reunited with each other. Overall, my first time helping capture and band loons was pretty amazing.   For future captures though, I’m wearing pants.