Funded in 2013 by the Ricketts Conservation Foundation, Restore the Call is a five-year science-based initiative to strengthen and restore loon populations within their existing and former range. Research efforts have focused in three key U.S. breeding population centers from the western mountains to the Atlantic seaboard.
While restoring bird species to their former range is an accepted conservation practice, this project is the first being conducted for the Common Loon. Success for restoring loons to their former range is a three-step progression.
In the first phase of this project, BRI researchers developed the techniques and methodology to create a safe and replicable approach for translocation and captive rearing of loon chicks—moving them to a new lake location and confirming that they fledged from that lake.
Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes
During the 2014, 2015, and 2016 breeding seasons, BRI researchers, in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, successfully translocated 17 chicks (five in 2014; seven in 2015; five in 2016) from the large breeding populations in northern Minnesota to unoccupied lakes south of the Twin Cities, Minnesota. Chicks translocated in the first two seasons ranged in age between 6 and 9 weeks old; those in the third season were older than 9 weeks.
Once Common Loons fledge, they spend the next three years on or near the ocean, sometimes migrating thousands of miles to wintering grounds. In their third summer, young loons return to their natal lakes to join the breeding populations.For translocation to be successful, these loons should return to the lake to which it was translocated, not the lake from which they hatched. Surveyors will monitor the lakes this season (2017) to identify any loons that had fledged in 2014.
Northeastern United States
In 2015, researchers translocated chicks across state boundaries. In collaboration with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, seven chicks were successfully moved from New York’s Adirondack Park to a lake in southeastern Massachusetts—a lake that was the last known breeding site for loons in the state before their extirpation around the turn of the 20th century. While breeding loons recolonized Massachusetts in the Quabbin Lake region in 1975 and today number more than 40 pairs, breeding loons have yet to reoccupy many other parts of the state.
In 2016, BRI successfully translocated nine chicks to the same lake in southeastern Massachusetts (four from New York; five from Maine) with assistance from Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife and Maine Audubon Society. Of those chicks, six were 4-6 weeks old at the time they were moved; three were older than 9 weeks. The younger chicks were captive reared (they were brought to a holding pen in the lake where they learn to feed on their own). The older chicks, able to feed on their own, were released directly onto the lake. This summer, researchers will move loon chicks from areas with robust loon populations from Maine to the same release lake used in Massachusetts in 2015 and 2016.
The Wyoming Loon Project
The Wyoming Loon Project is part of BRI’s broader Restore the Call scientific initiative to strengthen and restore loon populations within their existing and former range. An important aspect of this study is to assess lesser-known loon breeding populations at the southern edge of the species range. BRI researchers thoroughly documented the distribution, population size, breeding propensity of Common Loons, as well as potential threats to these loons, in an isolated and disjunct breeding population found in northwestern Wyoming. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department lists Common Loons as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need. With only 21 observed territorial pairs, the Wyoming loon population is one of the smallest in the species range. This population is not only the most southern loon population in the west, but it is also isolated from contiguous populations to the north by more than 220 miles.
To address loon conservation concerns, BRI formed the local loon working group in 2013 in collaboration with: Wyoming Game and Fish Department; Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks; and Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee National Forests. Since its initiation, the working group has expanded to include members of the Wyoming Wetlands Society and the Trumpeter Swan Society, as well as independent researchers and graduate students.
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