In the first week of January, as the weather turned to full-blown winter almost overnight, Biodiversity Research Institute’s (BRI’s) Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation facilitated five successful loon rescues in the Adirondack Park.
Three loons were “iced-in” when their lakes froze over, one was blown down by a storm onto a road and could not take off, and one was trapped due to fishing line entanglement. All loons have since been released on open waters.
The first rescued loon had evaded several capture attempts during the fall to remove a fishing line and lure that were wrapped around its wing. When its lake finally froze over, it had no choice but to be caught at last. Its rescuers removed a Lake Clear Wabbler lure from around the bird’s wing, and extracted the fishing hook lodged in the wing itself. This loon was then transferred to Tufts Wildlife Clinic for further rehabilitation, where it recovered and was recently released in wintering grounds on the Atlantic Ocean.
The same day as the first rescue, BRI’s Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation was notified by NYS DEC about a second loon, a juvenile this time, found on a road near Canton, New York. It is likely this bird was blown down onto the road during a storm the night before, and then was unable to take off, as loons need to run on water for several hundred feet to get airborne. The juvenile proved to be very healthy, and so was released on open water that day.
Three days later, another loon was rescued after being iced-in on Fourth Lake. It turned out to be a two- to three-year-old loon who had spent the summer there, and was in the process of molting out its flight feathers. Thus, it had become trapped in the frozen lake because it was completely unable to fly. Normally, adult loons molt during the late winter while on their coastal wintering grounds and are flightless for about a month. However, older juveniles (at least two years old) have an irregular molting cycle the first year that their adult plumage comes in. At the time of capture, this loon still had the gray body plumage of a juvenile but had transitioned to the black and white plumage of an adult in its upper wing feathers—and its flight feathers were completely absent. Needless to say, this loon seemed quite happy to be released on the unfrozen waters of Lake Champlain.
And finally, at the end of the week, two more loons required rescue from their frozen lakes where they were swimming in small puddles surrounded by ice. Both loons were last summer’s chicks, and apparently had not been spurred by colder temperatures and freezing lakes to migrate. These loons showed their gratitude to their rescuers by biting them prior to being safely relocated to Lake Champlain. The released loons sported new bands to help BRI’s Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation monitor and study these loons in the future.
It was a cold and very busy week,” said Dr. Nina Schoch, Coordinator of BRI’s Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation, “but definitely well worth it, seeing those birds swim off into open water, instead of becoming an eagle’s lunch. Our role in helping to protect Common Loons in the Adirondack Park is rarely more visceral; these rescues and our summer field work are strong reminders of why we do the work we do. We are deeply grateful to the highly experienced and intrepid rescuers who made saving these loons possible.”
To see more photos of these loon rescues, as well as information about the Loon Center’s other projects, visit the organization’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/adkloon.
BRI’s Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation reminds readers that attempting to rescue an iced-in loon is extremely dangerous, due to the thin ice that surrounds the small amount of open water where the bird is swimming. Such rescues should be conducted only by people with both ice rescue and loon handling experience, and significant precautions should be taken to prevent the need for human rescue as well.
For more information about BRI’s Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation, contact [email protected] or (888) 739-5600 x145, visit www.briloon.org/adkloon, or like BRI ‘s Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation at www.facebook.com/adkloon to stay updated about BRI’s Adirondack loon research and outreach efforts.
Photos, from above: An iced-in loon peeks out of the water to see its rescuers, but it’s not sure if that’s a better option than the eagle waiting in a nearby pine (photo by Nina Schoch); An iced-in loon gives its rescuers a piece of its mind (photo by Ellie George); and a rescued loon is released in the open waters of Lake Champlain (photo by William Schoch).