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Portland, ME—Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) presents a mid-point progress report of the largest Common Loon conservation study ever conducted. 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 are focusing 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, it has never been conducted for the Common Loon,” says David C. Evers, Ph.D., BRI’s executive director and a leading expert on loon ecology and conservation. “In the beginning of our fourth year of this milestone study, we are pleased to announce that we have had great success in developing a safe and replicable approach to translocate loon chicks.”
During the 2014 and 2015 breeding seasons, BRI researchers successfully translocated 12 chicks (five in 2014; seven in 2015) from the large breeding populations in northern Minnesota to unoccupied lakes south of the Twin Cities, Minnesota. All chicks were between 6 and 9 weeks old.
In 2015, researchers also translocated chicks across state boundaries; seven chicks were successfully moved from New York’s Adirondack lakes to a lake in southeastern Massachusetts—a lake that by coincidence was the last known breeding site for loons in the state before their extirpation around the turn of the century. While breeding loons reoccupied Massachusetts in the Quabbin Lake region in 1975 and today number over 40 pairs, breeding loons have yet to reoccupy many other parts of the state.
This summer, researchers will move loon chicks (> 6 weeks old) from areas with dense loon populations from Maine as well as New York to the same release lake used in Massachusetts in 2015. Another important aspect of the Restore the Call initiative is to assess poorly known loon breeding populations in remote areas. BRI researchers thoroughly documented, for the first time, the location, size, breeding propensity, and threats of Common Loons in an isolated and disjunct breeding population found in northwestern Wyoming.
“Yellowstone National Park is one of the best natural laboratories in the world,” says Doug Smith, senior wildlife biologist for the National Parks Service. “Much of its flora, fauna, and geology have been studied, yet oddly, the loons had not been studied until this project.”
The Restore the Call study area encompasses national parks and other public lands in the West (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho), the Midwest (Minnesota); and the Northeast (Maine, Massachusetts, and New York). When the study began in 2013, researchers focused primarily on surveying populations in these regions.
Population assessments help researchers identify sources of ecological stressors that may contribute to population declines. “It is important to identify key threats to existing populations,” says Evers, “and to create scientifically-based solutions for reducing those threats.” Ecological stressors that affect loons include type E botulism, mercury pollution, lead from fishing lures, oil spills, overdevelopment of shoreline property, and improper water level management.
Components of the five-year initiative include implementation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Conservation and Management Plan and creation of state-specific working groups to develop restoration plans. “We would not be able to attempt a project of this scope if we did not have RCF leading the way and the cooperation of state and federal wildlife agencies as well as key loon conservation nonprofits,” says Evers.
The loon is a key bioindicator of the health of our lakes as well as near shore marine ecosystems across North America. This initiative will include novel approaches to loon restoration and traditional avian translocation techniques, such as those used for Whooping Cranes, Trumpeter Swans, and Peregrine Falcons. Beyond the first five years of the study, BRI hopes to develop a program to monitor the new breeding populations in the initial target regions.
For current news and updates on this project, visit: www.briloon.org/restore-the-call-overview-page
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. As a result, private individuals and corporations must increasingly shoulder the responsibility of conserving our wildlife and wilderness areas. www.joericketts.com The mission of Biodiversity Research Institute is to assess emerging threats to wildlife and ecosystems through collaborative research, and to use scientific findings to advance environmental awareness and inform decision makers. BRI’s Center for Loon Conservation offers an essential resource for local and global communities concerned with loon preservation. Our research studies encompass a variety of ecological stressors: chemical toxins; habitat loss in breeding and wintering grounds and along migratory routes; and diseases. www.briloon.org/looncenter
© 2021 Biodiversity Research Institute is a 501(c)3 non-profit