Saturday, January 23, 2016

Five Adirondack Loons Rescued And Released

2016-NS LoonLake IcedInLoonRescue (52)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.

2016-EGeorge LoonLake IcedInLoonRescue_0529-tThree 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.

2016-WFS FourthLk IcedIn Loon (42-t2)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,

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 or (888) 739-5600 x145, visit, or like BRI ‘s Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation at 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).

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13 Responses

  1. Joe Smith says:

    Except for the loon with the lure caught up in its’ wing, Nature’s Way was interrupted.. so much for Nature culling the weak… and now their genes could be passed on.

    • Wally says:

      The problem is with the humans who aren’t culled.

    • Paul says:

      Evolution is a complicated thing that spans many many generations rescuing a few loons is not going to disturb the balance in the force! Anyway, if you want to get technical humans are a part of the ecosystem they are not simply observers. But yes there are also times where we should probably not intervene. For example when a mother bird is killing her young for some reason.

  2. kathy says:

    And if you should fall on ice in the winter and can’t get up…….

  3. Dave Gibson says:

    Great report from BRI Loon Center and Nina Schoch. Intrepid work, indeed, but clearly rewarding to the two foot-ed and wing-ed volunteers.

  4. Bill Hutchens says:

    Great work, Nina and crew!

  5. Ned Roulston says:

    I for one, am glad we have people who intervene in these situations. Nature’s way is very unforgiving and the Adirondacks without loons is too depressing to imagine. Thank you volunteers, your bravery and dedication are duly noted and appreciated.

  6. BRFVolpe says:

    Heartening! Great work!

  7. Merry says:

    Joe Smith, you could also say that nature’s way was interrupted this year by El Nino, and we think we know who caused that. At least two of these birds were still around because the winter was so late coming. I certainly found it confusing. Also, it seems wrong to not see each individual bird as a living breathing being, worthy of an intervention. Bravo!

  8. Charlie S says:

    It was so nice to read this report.So so nice! That there are people concerned enough to go out of their way and do something like this! We need more stories like this and they should be put on the front pages of the daily rags so that maybe a little sense of hope can be instilled for a change,a little reprieve from of all the negative news that the corporations so love to bestow upon us! Just think if more people starting receiving good news….just maybe a new consciousness can arise.

    I rescued a squirrel within the last few hours. This rescue could have turned out for the worse due to a vagueness in the human animal.Thanks to my persistence this was a very good ending. Maybe I’ll share sometime. Thank you very much for the above.

  9. Micum says:

    Maybe the rangers should not have rescued the fallen or fainted climbers. The rescued may have poor climbing genes.

    • Boreas says:

      I wonder if Loons are smart enough not to make the same mistake twice. I hope they were tagged so that any future misadventures can be documented. The Loons, I mean…

  10. Micum says:

    To be more serious, loons have a very low reproductive rate and rate of success at raising chicks. The presence of people and all that they bring with them (water pollutants, jet skis and boats that have large wakes and destroy nests, acid rain, and mercury, lead sinkers, fishing line and hooks to name a few) are further decreasing the reproductive success of loons. People helping loons in no way approaches compensating for the harm people do, but it is a little bit helpful. Juveniles have probably always been a bit confused about flying south as they make the trip after the mature loons. Now it matters more because there are fewer juveniles, thanks to people. So helping a few have a successful year, goes toward maintaining the population.

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