Why it’s so Important to Protect our Loons

By Mike Thomas

 Photo by Daniel Parker

Photo by Daniel Parker

Loons fulfill the same role for a lake that the canary fulfilled in the mines: acting as an indicator of environmental conditions. Canadian Lakes Loon Survey (CLLS) monitoring of loon reproductive success has proven effective for monitoring broader lake health. In fact, survival of loon chicks is a good indicator of the impact of lake acidification and other water conditions on fish stocks and aquatic life. In addition 97 per cent of the world’s common loon population lives in Canada; 56 per cent of these in Ontario and Quebec. This makes the Common Loon our responsibility to conserve. 

Common Loons are the most southern of Canada's 5 loon species (Common, Arctic, Pacific, Yellow-billed, and Red-throated). They nest on lakes and large rivers throughout every province and territory. Loons have been displaced from some of the more developed areas of southern Canada. 

The PLCA has been a participant in the CLLS for over 10 years now. I am pleased to say that our lake has had from 3 to 6 breeding pairs for each of the past 10+ years.

The Canadian Lakes Loon Survey was initiated in Ontario in 1981, and expanded nationally in 1989. The early focus was on monitoring the negative effects of acid rain on breeding loons. During its first decade, the Canadian Lakes Loon Survey data showed a direct link between acid rain and loon chick survival. 

Human disturbance and development are ongoing threats to loons. There are many activities that are detrimental to loons, including: disturbance of nesting sites (as a result of boats, canoes/kayaks, personal watercraft, and water level changes); entanglement in discarded debris (fishing lines and domestic garbage); nest predation due to attracting and support of nest predators (raccoons, skunks, and gulls); and displacement of loons through habitat loss. Reproductive success data from the Canadian Lakes Loon Survey clearly show that the number of chicks that each pair produces each year has been declining over time. 

Ultimately, local human disturbance can be minimized when people are sensitive to the needs of loons. As more people move into loon country, promoting loon-friendly activities becomes increasingly important. With its black and white plumage, large profile and haunting calls, the Common Loon is Canada's most iconic and beloved inhabitant of our lakes. But this ancient predator is undergoing systemic and increasing human pressure; pressures great enough that loons may someday be unable to maintain their current population levels. A concern verified by Canadian Lakes Loon Survey data suggests that Common Loon reproduction has declined over the last 30 years. 

PLCA participants have worked to track Common Loon reproductive success by monitoring chick hatch and survival. Participants dedicate at least three dates, once in June (to see if loon pairs are on territory), once in July (to see if chicks hatch) and once in August (to see if chicks survive long enough to fledge). 

We also work as stewards within our community sharing knowledge of better boating, fishing and shoreline practices, not only protecting and supporting loons but the many other aquatic species that share our waterways.