DNR seeks public help monitoring loon population

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is looking for the public’s help in monitoring local loon populations. Volunteers would be needed for one day of monitoring in nearby counties.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is once again looking for assistance from the public to help monitor the loon population locally.

Volunteers are needed for one day of monitoring through July 6 in Itasca, Lake and Cook counties, to count the number of adult and juvenile loons on pre-selected lakes.

The DNR has been keeping track of the loon population this way for two decades, as hundreds of volunteer observers have gathered information about common loon numbers on more than 600 lakes in six regions throughout the state, according to an agency press release.

According to DNR officials, the annual loon count “gives the DNR the ability to detect changes in the loon population and identify potential management needs and opportunities.”

The common loon, which it’s distinctive coloring, red eyes, and unmistakable call, has been the Minnesota state bird since 1961, when Gov. Elmer Lee Anderson signed the official bill into law.

Interestingly, the loon wasn’t the first choice kicked around. According to a story by Elizabeth Bachmann, written soon after the official designation, for many years the goldfinch was considered the unofficial state bird.

When discussion turned to naming a legitimate feathered ambassador, both the pileated woodpecker and the kingfisher were proposed, among other species.

In the end, lawmakers went with the loon – and not because they knew we would elect some truly looney people to high powered positions one day (think Jesse Ventura or any of our most recent public servants) – but most likely because it is most at home on water and Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Today, there are nearly 12,000 loons in Minnesota, second only to Alaska for largest population, and state officials have been diligently working to keep it that way for many years.

In 1994, the DNR implemented The Minnesota Loon Monitoring Program (MLMP) to detect changes in Minnesota’s loon population and in the health of their lake habitats in Minnesota.

Through the MLMP, Minnesota plays a large role in gathering information to help other states maintain healthy loon populations and according to DNR officials, loons are also a great indicator of healthy lakes.

DNR Wildlife Specialist Gaea Crozier said in a previous story on the bird that they are sensitive to water quality and contaminants, too much development and recreational activities, and fluctuating water levels. So if we have a stable loon population, that is an indication that the quality of our lakes is high.

In order to participate in the monitoring program, all a person needs are binoculars or a spotting scope and in some cases a boat or canoe.

According to the DNR, the time commitment is one to four hours per lake. Surveys must be done between 5 a.m. and noon on one day during the monitoring period. Volunteers are asked to observe any applicable CDC COVID-19 and boating safety guidelines.

Volunteers must commit to completing one or more assigned lakes and consider participating in the program for multiple years. Surveys can be conducted from shore on smaller lakes, or by boat or canoe on larger lakes. Volunteers use an online system to reserve and manage their lake assignments, view maps and information for their lakes, and print data collection sheets. The online system was funded by a donation from the Minnesota United professional soccer team, whose mascot is a loon.

For questions or more information, contact northeast regional loon monitoring coordinator Bry Persing by phone at 218-735-3962, or email at bryonna.persing@state.mn.us.

Here are some interesting facts about the common loon from the DNR:

•Loons don’t begin breeding until they are three or four years old. The male chooses a territory and attracts a mate. Together the male and female build a nest out of reeds and grasses on the edge of the water. They take turns incubating the one to two eggs the female lays. After 28 to 30 days blackish brown chicks emerge from the eggs, soon ready for a swim. One of the ways parents care for their young is to carry them on their backs to keep them safe from fish and turtle predators. Young loons don’t fly until they are more than two months old.

•Loons like fish - panfish, perch, ciscoes, suckers, trout, bullheads, smelt, and minnows. They also may eat frogs, leeches, crayfish, mollusks, salamanders, amphipods, and insects.

•Adult loons rarely are eaten by other animals (except bald eagles), but their young can fall prey to skunks, raccoons, foxes, snapping turtles, northern pike, and muskies.

•Loons are found on lakes throughout central and northeastern Minnesota. In September, Minnesota’s adult loons travel to their winter home along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina south to Florida, or on the Gulf of Mexico. Younger loons follow a month or so later.

•Threats to loons include human disturbance and pollutants such as lead and mercury. The DNR monitors loon populations with the help of volunteers to improve understanding of what our state bird needs to maintain a strong, healthy presence here.

•Loons’ lives are filled with fun facts. For example:

•The bones of most birds are hollow and light, but loons have solid bones.

•The extra weight helps them dive as deep as 250 feet to search for food. They can stay underwater for up to five minutes.

•Because their bodies are heavy relative to their wing size, loons need a 100- to 600-foot “runway” in order to take off from a lake.

•Loons can fly more than 75 miles per hour.

•The red in the loon’s eye helps it to see under water.

•Scientists think loons can live for 30 years or more

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