Saturday, February 10, 2024

Use non-toxic fishing tackle, lead poisoning leading cause of loon deaths

Paradox Pete stuffed animal in the snow

Winter held on for another week, giving snowmobilers and skiers some snow to play on…but be careful of ice conditions with all the freezing and thawing we’ve had this winter. Punxsutawney Phil and Ellie George’s Paradox Pete didn’t see their shadows, so we can look for Spring most any time. Since we’ve had six Spring Breaks so far this winter, that won’t be anything new.

Traveling to Syracuse this week, there was no snow to be seen below Remsen. Just open, bare fields and open water almost everywhere. Tupper Lake had to cancel their ice fishing derby because of unsafe ice conditions. I’ve seen ice anglers on lakes in the Fulton Chain and Limekiln Lake, but I would still check the ice before going out.


[This is] especially [important] around inlets and bubblers around boat houses, as they both weaken the ice way far from the open water. Another warming trend is coming at the end of the week with rain predicted on Friday [Feb. 9] and temperatures in the forties.


California is having a bit of severe weather (to say the least,) with hurricane-force winds coming with these storms for the first time ever. Rainfall totals for two days are over ten inches in many places and the whole coastline is being affected by what they called an “Atmospheric River” coming off the ocean.


It has caused much flooding of homes and businesses, mudslides blocking highways and the high winds taking down trees and power lines. This is going to continue into the weekend, with more rain predicted each day. [They got] more rain just on the first day than they normally receive for the entire month of February.

x-ray on a loon with lead fishing tackle in its stomach

Loon x-ray with lead jig. Photo courtesy of the NYS DEC’s Wildlife Health Unit.

Birds keep coming from some place to my feeders every day. I had a count of ten (maybe twelve) Blue Jays at my feeders for a couple of weeks now. I have banded them since Jan. 22, [and have gotten] nearly ten new ones a day through today…caught mostly in my Potter traps. I missed a couple of days with hospital and doctor’s trips, but I did over sixty new birds. They just keep coming. As I look at them in the morning, I see new ones without bands and where the banded birds go, I don’t know if they are going south or north.


Other new birds are showing up that haven’t been here in weeks like Pine Siskins, Purple Finch, and even a Slate-Colored Junco. I believe I’m counting about twenty Black-Capped Chickadees daily and I’ve put about thirty bands on while I’ve had my mist nets up only two half days. [I’m] also catching several re-traps that I banded last fall or spring. So, birds are moving around during these milder days and nights going in one direction or another.


I got a news release from Nina Schoch, Executive Director of the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation, on lead poisoning being the main cause of death of Loons found dead on Adirondack lakes this past summer. This is from summarizing the findings of the NYS DEC’s Wildlife Health Unit’s necropsy reports from dead Loons found last summer. Unfortunately, the primary cause of death was lead poisoning due to the birds swallowing a piece of lead fishing tackle when they ate a fish that still had a piece of tackle attached after it broke a line.


They also pick up small stones from the bottom that they use to grind up the fish they eat. While doing this, they may pick up a lead sinker or lead shot from the lake bottom. Loons seen sick on the water from lead poisoning have trouble holding their head up and they will beach themselves to keep from drowning, but die from lead poisoning.


If people want to help prevent lead poisoning in Loons and other wildlife, [it is] recommended they use non-toxic fishing tackle and ammunition. There are many alternatives available now that do not poison wildlife who accidentally ingest them.


A Lead Tackle Buy-Back Program, [allows] people [to] bring in 1 ounce or more of lead tackle and receive a $10 voucher they can use to buy non-lead tackle at any participating tackle outfitters (see for locations across the Park.) New outfitters [are also encouraged] to join this program. Locally, Old Forge Hardware is participating in this program.


The Great Backyard Bird Count is coming up next weekend, Feb. 16 – 19, but that’s another story. See ya.

Related Stories

Gary lives with his wife, Karen, at Eight Acre Wood in Inlet where he was the Forest Ranger for 35 years, working in the Moose River Wild Forest Recreation Area and West Canada Lakes Wilderness Area. Now retired, Gary works summers for the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation, observing, catching and banding loons. The author of a column Daybreak to Twilight in local papers from 1986 to 2019, he now writes his Outdoor Adventures a weekly blog. In 2008, Gary coauthored a book with John M.C. “Mike” Peterson, "Adirondack Birding- 60 Great Places to Find Birds."

2 Responses

  1. David Gibson says:

    Gary, re. lead tackle and the constant danger to common loons, the x-ray picture you include here (along with your good advice as a life long “loon ranger”) is worth thousands of words. Seeing (that lead jig inside the dead loon) is believing. Thanks to Old Forge Hardware for its participation in promoting non-lead fishing tackle.

  2. David Bower says:

    This has been such a weird year for winter birds here in TX. We usually get a number of goldfinches at our thistle (nyger) feeders, but I haven’t seen a single one this year. No traffic at our suet feeder, either. Surely do miss them!

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Wait! Before you go:

Catch up on all your Adirondack
news, delivered weekly to your inbox