In this spring 2020 photo, a loon adult sits on its nest at the edge of a pond in Piscataquis County. Maine Audubon is conducting its Annual Loon Count on Saturday morning. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Holt Heal

Hearing the cry of a loon and seeing the birds on a lake or pond is among the high points of the summer for Maine residents and vacationers alike.

Again this summer, Maine Audubon will try to get a gauge of the population of the bird in the state when it conducts its annual Loon Count.

Observers statewide will have the opportunity to contribute to the effort on Saturday. It is a tradition that spans almost 40 years and has included the efforts of more than 1,000 volunteers.

The annual Loon Count will only last from 7- 7:30 a.m..

Participants will hit the water on more than 300 Maine lakes in various craft including canoes, kayaks, skiffs and pontoon boats to continue the effort.

In its conservation efforts, Maine Audubon has been studying threats to the Common Loon.

“The count gives us a window into the status and changes in Maine’s Common Loon population over time,” said Maine Audubon Wildlife Ecologist Tracy Hart, who leads the count.  

Even the pandemic did not deter loon watchers in 2020 when 1,347 volunteers and 48 regional Audubon coordinators safely conducted the loon survey.

Maine Audubon uses the numbers to estimate the annual population in Maine and to track population trends over the years. The information is utilized to help biologists, state officials and the folks recreating on Maine lakes get a clearer picture of how the species, and the bodies of water they frequent, are doing.

The state is home to the largest Common Loon population in the Northeast, according to Maine Audubon. Since the inception of the annual count in 1983, the organization estimates that the number of adult loons in the southern half of the state has doubled from fewer than 1,500 to almost 3,000 last year.

The group’s loon estimate includes only the area south of the 45th parallel, which is a line that stretches approximately from Rangeley to Calais. That is because Maine Audubon has enough lakes in that area covered by counters to provide a reliable estimate.

Maine Audubon praised the efforts of Maine’s ban on lead fishing tackle and the Fish Lead Free Initiative for reducing the number of loons that die from ingesting them.

Leading up to Maine’s 2013 ban on lead sinkers and jigs, lead poisoning from lead fishing tackle was found to be responsible for close to one-third of the documented adult loon mortality over a 25-year span, according to Maine Audubon.

Even so, there are other issues that threaten the health and well-being of the birds.

“As motorboat operators, kayakers and other lake users are getting back out on the water this year, please remember that trauma from collisions with boats is a leading cause of loon deaths and the toll is rising,” Hart said.

She also cited boat wakes that flood nests and cause loons to abandon them as another detriment to the loon population.

“We encourage people to slow down, especially near islands and lakeshores, stay away from loon families, and learn to read the signs,” said Hart, who explained that the tremolo call of the birds are telling people that they are too close.

More information, including Maine Audubon’s  “Living in Loon Territory” brochure, is available at  maineaudubon.org.

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Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...