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Restore the Call
Restore the Call

Common Loon Northeast Fall Migration Study

Little is known about the behavior, movements, habitat use, and timing of migration of loon family units after the summer breeding season.

This project aims to address some of these knowledge gaps by closely following family units across New England.

Lead Investigator: Lee Attix
Contributing BRI Staff: Mike Chickering, Alex Dalton, Lauren Gilpatrick, Carrie Gray, Robby Lambert, Vincent Spagnuolo, Kate Taylor

 

Study Goals

Through this project we expect to gain an understanding of how loon family units interact after chicks fledge, and the timing and order of departure from territories for migration. Specifically we would like to determine:

  • When the first adult leaves the lake (begins migration)
  • Which adult leaves first (male or female)
  • When the second adult leaves the lake and how many days elapsed from the date of the first adult's departure
  • Chick departure date and the number of days the chick(s) remains after the last adult leaves
  • Age of the chick(s) when the last adult migrates, whenever hatch dates are known
 

Study Region

Researchers began field data collection in 2013. The initial study area for this project comprised 21 lakes or ponds located in three states—Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Early surveys eliminated four lakes where no loons were found; four other lakes were eliminated as the data collected was incomplete due to limiting field conditions. This left 13 lakes where frequent, successful surveys were conducted throughout the study period.

In 2014, loon families on 18 lakes were monitored (two in Massachusetts, nine in New Hampshire, and seven in Maine).

In 2015, loon families on 17 lakes were monitored (one in Massachusetts, 10 in New Hampshire, and six in Maine).

After the first three years of the study, 33 different lakes/ponds have been monitored, with a total of 42 territories.

 
Map of the fall migration study lakes, New England, 2013-2015.
Map of the fall migration study lakes, New England, 2013-2015.
 

Methods of Gathering Data

Loon family units are monitored throughout the fall via shoreline surveys, kayaks, and motorboats. Binoculars and spotting scopes are used to identify parents by their unique color combination of leg bands, or by differences in size and/or molt variation. When field conditions allow, each territory is monitored twice a week.

Left: Loon chick plumage in November, Mare Meadow Reservoir, Massachusetts, 2013. Right: Male of the Mare Meadow Reservoir loon family still on territory but separate from the chick. Note the dead foliage and low water levels.
Left: Loon chick plumage in November, Mare Meadow Reservoir, Massachusetts, 2013. Right: Male of the Mare Meadow Reservoir loon family still on territory but separate from the chick. Note the dead foliage and low water levels.
Left: Loon chick plumage in November, Mare Meadow Reservoir, Massachusetts, 2013. Right: Male of the Mare Meadow Reservoir loon family still on territory but separate from the chick. Note the dead foliage and low water levels.
 

Expected Deliverables/Outcomes

We expect to produce reports and publish scientific journal articles on our findings. This research will influence the development of novel loon conservation strategies such as the translocation and captive rearing of chicks.
 

Collaborators/Volunteers

  • Loon Preservation Committee
  • Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
  • Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation
  • Kittie Wilson, Pleasant Lake, New London, New Hampshire
  • John Rockwood, Massabesic Lake, New Hampshire
  • Peter Kallin, Long Pond, Belgrade, Maine
  • Libby Corbin, Long Pond, Benton, New Hampshire
Project Funding

Project Funding

This project is part of The Ricketts Conservation Foundation 5-year Restore the Call scientific initiative, a national loon study that is being carried out by BRI.
 
Photo Credits: Header image © Kittie Wilson; Loons in late fall: © BRI-Lee Attix
Biodiversity Research Institute