Biodiversity Research Institute
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Restore the Call
Restore the Call

Health Assessments of Common Loons across North America

In response to ongoing and emerging health threats to loons, BRI has initiated a continent-wide Common Loon health assessment study. This large-scale study will be the most comprehensive loon health survey ever conducted, focusing on loons from key regions across North America: New England, New York, Minnesota, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, Alaska, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan.

Lead Investigator: Michelle Kneeland, D.V.M.

Project Overview

Project Overview

BRI is leading a large-scale, multi-year study on the health of Common Loons across the continent. This four-year study, begun in the summer of 2014, will enable a comprehensive health assessment of the North American loon population. The vital data collected will aid loon restoration and management efforts, and identify emerging issues of conservation concern.

A wildlife health study of this scale has rarely been possible in the past, and our findings will extend far beyond loons as well. Using loons as bioindicators, the study will help us evaluate the ecological health of a region that is tied closely to the health of other wildlife species and the health of the people living within that shared environment.

Study Goals

Study Goals

The major goals of the study are to:

  1. Collect baseline health data on Common Loons
  2. Build upon previous studies and advance our knowledge into novel and innovative areas of loon health research
  3. Identify emerging threats to loon health and ecosystem health
  4. Compare findings between regions to identify geographical differences and prioritize conservation efforts
Study Regions

Study Regions

The project focuses on three key regions across the continent:

Northwestern Region
  • United States: Washington, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming (Yellowstone National Park)
  • Canada: British Columbia

Midwestern Region

  • Minnesota

Northeastern Region

  • New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine
Methods of Gathering Data

Methods of Gathering Data

Blood and other samples are collected from loons during BRI’s banding efforts in each region. Working closely with our loon research biologists, BRI’s veterinary staff oversees the sample processing and analysis procedures. Health analyses to be conducted are carefully ranked by priority for each region to ensure the most valuable data are collected from a limited blood sample.

Data covering a wide range of health measures will be collected, including:

  • Baseline hematology and plasma biochemistry values 
  • Parasitology (GI and hemoparasites) 
  • Toxicology (heavy metals, organic pollutants, cyanotoxins) 
  • Bacterial/viral/fungal disease surveillance 
  • Measures of oxidative stress 
  • Measures of immune function 
  • Potential physiologic responses to climate change

Full necropsy examinations of loons that are found dead will be conducted to determine causes of mortality, and to collect tissue samples for further analysis and diagnostics. This information will expand current loon mortality databases and help determine primary threats to loons.


Expected Deliverables/Outcomes

  1. Report findings in a variety of scientific publications accessed by diverse professional groups, including veterinarians, wildlife rehabilitators, wildlife researchers, biologists, environmental scientists, and public health specialists
  2. Present findings at regional and national professional meetings
  3. Conduct educational outreach through presentations and other media to inform the general public on issues affecting environmental, wildlife, and human health


  • Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
  • Wildlife Conservation Society’s Zoological Health Program
  • New Hampshire’s Loon Preservation Committee 
  • Keith Grasman, Ph.D., Calvin College
Photo Credits: Header photo: © Daniel Poleschook; Necropsy © BRI-Vincent Spagnuolo; Sampling blood © BRI-Vincent Spagnuolo
Biodiversity Research Institute