Cold Weather Concerns for Loons on NH Lakes
The Laker - January 7, 2019
As cold weather sets in and New Hampshire’s lakes and ponds begin to freeze over, the Loon Preservation Committee (LPC) in Moultonborough is urging the public to keep an eye out for loons remaining on inland waters. Because they are heavy bodied birds with relatively small wings, loons require up to a quarter mile of open water in order to take off. If they do not leave lakes before the water freezes over, loons risk becoming trapped and unable to fly to their wintering grounds on the ocean.
Most loons have already migrated from New Hampshire’s lakes and ponds; however it is not uncommon for some, especially this year’s chicks, to remain into December or early January. Underlying problems may prevent some loons from leaving lakes, putting them at risk of becoming iced-in. If not rescued, trapped loons may starve to death or be predated.
LPC rescued its first iced-in loon of the year, a juvenile that was trapped on Willand Pond in Dover/Somersworth, on December 8.
Members of the public are asked to call the Loon Preservation Committee at 603-476-LOON if they see a loon that is at risk of becoming iced-in. LPC urges the public not to attempt to rescue loons themselves. Winter loon rescues can be hazardous to human safety, as rescuers risk falling through the ice.
LPC has protocols in place to deal with these situations, including notifying local fire departments prior to attempting winter loon rescues and having people on shore ready to help should the rescuer run into trouble. LPC rescuers also use specialized equipment, including an insulated rescue suit, Jon-boat, ice awls and axes, flotation devices, and a long-handled net. In addition to the human safety risks, winter rescues can also be dangerous for the loons. Untrained rescuers may scare the loon and cause it to dive under the ice, potentially resulting in drowning.
The Loon Preservation Committee was formed in 1975 in response to a severe decline in New Hampshire’s common loon population. While these winter rescues are a more recent addition to LPC’s population management work, they have already proven to be effective at helping to increase New Hampshire’s loon population. In 2016, LPC rescued five loons that were iced in on Lake Sunapee. Of these five, four survived rehabilitation and were released onto the ocean. All four of those loons were spotted on New Hampshire lakes this year, and two of the four fledged chicks.
For more information on loons or to make sure that the bird you are seeing is actually a loon, please visit the Loon Preservation Committee website at www.loon.org.
The Loon Preservation Committee (www.loon.org) works to protect loons throughout the state as part of its mission to restore and maintain a healthy population of loons in New Hampshire; to monitor the health and productivity of loon populations as sentinels of environmental quality; and to promote a greater understanding of loons and the natural world.