Laugh of the Wild

Environmental Concerns Affecting Loons

Loons have suffered some serious setbacks in New England and New York in recent decades, largely from increased human use of the lakes they need for breeding. Motorboat wakes are especially disastrous, swamping the shoreline nests and drowning the eggs, while too much disturbance of any kind may cause the loons to desert the nest entirely. Sometimes the harassment is more direct; ignorant boaters may chase loons, forcing them to dive repeatedly. Loons pressed this hard may die from exhaustion and a buildup of toxins as a result of holding their breath for long periods.

Other problems plague loons. One study of dead loons on New England lakes found that more than half had died from lead poisoning after swallowing fishing sinkers, probably in mistake for gizzard stones picked from the lake bottoms. Loons also suffer mercury contamination on the wintering grounds, and from acid precipitation, which can render their breeding lakes sterile.

Loon-lovers have not been idle, however. Anglers are being urged to avoid lead weights in lakes that support loons, and floating artificial nest platforms, anchored just offshore so they rise and fall with a boat wake, have shown promise. Public awareness of loons has also made boaters more aware of the dangers of disturbance, and in some areas the long decline in loon numbers appears to have reversed itself.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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