6 ways cottagers can help protect common loons

A common loon in Acadia national park in Maine. Photo by Harry Collins Photography/Shutterstock

1. Volunteer to help

Volunteer for the Canadian Lakes Loon Survey at birdscanada.org/loons. Birds Canada will mail you an information package with observation sheets to fill out. Citizen scientists are asked to record loon observations on their lakes at least one day per month for June, July, and August.

2. Naturalize your cottage property

Naturalize your shoreline to provide prime nesting habitat and shelter for small chicks, says Doug Tozer at Birds Canada. Let native brush and tall grasses grow naturally in a buffer along the length of your property’s shoreline. Aim for eight metres (25 feet) depth back from the water’s edge, though smaller buffers help too.

3. Don’t litter

Keep a litter-free yard and secure garbage bins so you don’t attract raccoons and other land-based predators.

4. Don’t rock the boat

When driving boats, keep away from the shoreline to protect loon nests. If you see a loon, slow down and give them space—more than you think. Experts suggest a berth of around 100 m, or several hundred feet. The sound of a boat motor can cause a parent to panic and swim away from its young chicks, the perfect opportunity for a herring gull or raven to swoop in for a meal. Chicks are less adept at diving to escape danger, especially in wakes.

5. Keep your distance

When you’re paddling around the lake, look for signs that a loon is stressed by your presence. The tremolo call may sound like laughter, but it’s actually a distress call. “If you hear that, you should back off,” Tozer says. If a loon swims away from you, you’re getting too close. And if a nesting loon dips its head low and flat in the “hangover” position, it’s also time to back away.

6. Use lead-free fishing tackle

If you fish, use non-toxic, non-lead tackle. Ingesting lead is lethal for loons.

Julia Nunes wrote and directed the one-hour feature documentary, Loons: A Cry From the Mist.

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