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BIODIVERSITY RESEARCH INSTITUTE ANNOUNCES CRITICAL FINDINGS FROM 5-YEAR RESTORE THE CALL LOON RESEARCH STUDY
Portland, ME—Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) announces results of its five-year loon study Restore the Call: A male loon chick that was translocated in 2015 from the Adirondack Park Region of New York to the Assawompsett Pond Complex (APC) in southeastern Massachusetts has returned to the APC lake from which it fledged. The identification of this loon (through color bands) marks the first confirmed account of an adult loon returning to the lake to which it was translocated, captive-reared, and then fledged.
“This is a major milestone in loon conservation,” says David C. Evers, Ph.D., BRI’s executive director and a leading expert on loon ecology and conservation. “It is the next step in proving that breeding loon populations can be restored to their former habitat.”
Since 2013, scientists at BRI, headquartered in Portland, Maine, have been conducting one of the largest loon studies ever attempted. The aim of the Restore the Call initiative, funded by the Ricketts Conservation Foundation (RCF), is to strengthen and restore Common Loon populations within their existing and former range. Research efforts, focused in three U.S. breeding population areas from the western mountains to the Atlantic seaboard, include translocation (moving individuals of a species from one area to repopulate another area).
While restoring bird species to their former range is an accepted conservation practice, this project is the first to be conducted for the Common Loon. “Success for restoring loons to their former range is a three-step progression,” says Michelle Kneeland, D.V.M., director of BRI’s Wildlife Health Program and lead researcher for the study. “Our first measure of success was to develop 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 to migrate to wintering grounds.” Kneeland and her team of wildlife biologists and veterinarians accomplished that goal by the second year of the study.
Once Common Loons fledge from their freshwater lakes, they spend the next three years on the ocean, sometimes migrating thousands of kilometers to wintering grounds. Typically, in their third summer, young loons return to their natal lakes to join the breeding population. The second measure of success for restoring loons is to confirm that the loons return in their third summer to the lake from which they fledged (the lake to which they were translocated, not the lake from which they hatched).
“In our efforts to aid recovery of loons in Massachusetts, the return of Chick #4–2015 on the APC has profound significance,” says Kneeland. “We now have evidence to suggest that the loons will return to the lakes from which they fledged. The next step is waiting for any returning loons to start breeding and building a population in the new area. That will be our final measure of success.” On average, loons stake out their own territories and begin to breed in their sixth summer. The recolonization of loons in Massachusetts offers an important research opportunity. “The project becomes an excellent study for understanding how loons recolonize as well as answering demographic and natural history questions,” says Vincent Spagnuolo, director of BRI’s loon program.
“Monitoring of banded loons provides a wealth of information about how loons behave in this type of situation, how they utilize the landscape, how they respond to environmental stressors and threats, and, maybe most importantly, how individuals contribute to a recovery.”
For more information about the Restore the Call research study, visit: www.briloon.org/restorethecall
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Funding for this project has been provided by the Ricketts Conservation Foundation, which was formed by Joe Ricketts to support the conservation of wildlife and natural resources. Underlying the Foundation’s mission is the reality that government no longer has sufficient resources to deal effectively with the growing environmental challenges we face. www.joericketts.com
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