BRI’s Loon Program is dedicated to assessing current and emerging threats to loons, and to collaborating with the many agencies and organizations that work to conserve loon populations across the Northern Hemisphere. Our research and conservation projects contribute to understanding basic ecology and strive to unravel the impacts of ecological stressors and how they can be lessened.
The Program is also actively involved in assisting state and federal conservation and management agencies in monitoring efforts that include the capture, banding, sampling, and tracking of individual loons and their populations. We publish our findings through reports, management plans, and communications pieces to inform decision makers and the general public.
The Program’s innovative approach uses information from known individuals (through color-banding, geolocators, and satellite transmitters) and has population-level applications for conservation and management efforts. While studies over the past 29 years have emphasized the Common Loon, similar field efforts with the Yellow-billed Loon began in 2004. Studies involving the Red-throated Loon began in 2000 and have expanded over the past several years. Ancillary studies tracking productivity and movements of Pacific Loons are ongoing.
Loon research by BRI biologists began in 1989 with the discovery of a replicable nighttime capture method, which facilitated the ability to track individual movements and health. This capture method is responsible for the banding and recapture of more than 5,000 Common Loons. A daytime technique has since been developed that now contributes to the capture, marking, and sampling of other species of loons, including the Yellow-billed Loon, Red-throated Loon, and Pacific Loon. The ability to safely and regularly capture individual loons over time provides a way to track individual performance and health that can be related at population-level scales.
BRI will host an International Loon/Diver Symposium in October 2020 in Portland, Maine.
Our goal for this meeting is to bring together researchers, conservationists, resource managers, and loon enthusiasts to share knowledge and expertise.
In 2013, the Ricketts Conservation Foundation initiated the largest conservation study for the Common Loon, a key bioindicator of aquatic integrity for lakes and nearshore marine ecosystems across North America. This scientific initiative, which is being carried out by BRI, provides an opportunity to identify major threats to loons while also creating solutions that strengthen current populations and restore loons to their former breeding range. Focal restoration sites are in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Wyoming.
BRI began studying contaminants by documenting the exposure and effects of methylmercury in the Common Loon across North America. Research efforts have expanded to include additional contaminants (including lead, oil and emerging organic pollutants) and species (including the Red-throated and Yellow-billed Loons). Overall research goals include identifying biological mercury hotspots, conducting risk and injury assessments, and developing the use of loon species as biosentinels for monitoring contaminants in response to regulatory and other policy needs (e.g., Minamata Convention).
Contaminants monitoring projects include:
Monitoring uniquely color-marked or satellite-tagged loons is paramount to the continued understanding of population demographics and trends. Over time, the Program’s banding efforts have encompassed most of North America for the Common Loon (including 11 states and 8 provinces during the breeding season and 8 states during winter), three sites in the Yellow-billed Loon’s breeding range (Alaska, Nunavut, and Northwest Territories), and many sites for the Red-throated and Pacific Loons (mostly in Alaska during the breeding season). As a result of research conducted using banded and tagged loons, various state, regional, and national management and conservation efforts have been employed.
Population dynamics monitoring projects include:
Efforts to study and monitor the movements of loons across their life cycle help us learn critical information about their behavior and ecology. What is the breeding and wintering site fidelity of loons (important for managing populations)? What is the connectivity for various breeding populations with their wintering areas (important for pinpointing impacts during a marine oil spill)? What threats do breeding loon populations encounter during migration and winter (important for rare species like the Yellow-billed Loon)? The answers to such questions are more than just interesting; they are needed to make responsible conservation and management decisions that affect both wildlife and humans.
Movements monitoring projects include:
The Loon Program is actively conducting studies on four of the five species of loons found worldwide: Common Loons; Yellow-billed Loons; Red-throated Loons; and Pacific Loons. Efforts are concentrated on breeding areas for each of the four species, with an emphasis on the Common Loon and on the other three species at the Program’s biostation on the tundra southeast of Barrow, Alaska (in our 9th year at that site in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey). Migration studies are limited to monitoring species using satellite transmitters. Winter studies are focused on Common Loons (in Louisiana and South Carolina) and Red-throated Loons (in Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia).
Species-specific monitoring projects include:
The Adirondack Park, a six-million-acre reserve in upstate New York, boasts hundreds of lakes and ponds—perfect breeding grounds for the Common Loon. The Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation is dedicated to improving the overall health of this environment, particularly its air and water quality, through collaborative research and education efforts. These efforts focus on the natural history of the Common Loon, while also studying conservation issues that affect all loon populations and their aquatic habitats.
Authors David Evers and Kate Taylor detail the story of the Common Loon, told from the perspective of first-hand, in-depth study. Stunning and intimate images by nature photographers Ginger and Daniel Poleschook capture the loon’s cycle of life through the seasons. Award-winning author and field biologist Jeff Fair recounts in the Foreword tales of “the simple joy in understanding such a wild spirit.” Order here
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