New York tags loons to study migratory
By Michael Gormley
ALBANY, N.Y. - Government and environmental groups are
putting a tail on the Adirondacks’ long-legged symbol
to answer the long-standing question of where the loon
goes in winter.
The reason for the effort goes beyond curiosity. The
answer could help secure the future of the common loon
and the Adirondacks’ thousands of lakes and ponds.
"We always wondered where our loons went in winter,"
said John Sheehan of The Adirondack Council. "It’s
always been a concern for us."
The state study with the private Adirondack Cooperative
Loon Program that studies migratory species will use satellite
telemetry to track loons tagged with markers.
The path is critical. For example, loons could be migrating
toward the Great Lakes where they could be exposed to
Type E botulism, which has killed thousands of loons on
Lake Erie and Lake Ontario over the four years. But many
loons are also believed to winter along the East Coast.
In New England, loons are vulnerable to threats that
include mercury in the fish they eat, ingestion of lead
sinkers and speeding boats.
Loon populations in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and
Vermont have recovered in the past 10 years. A few years
ago, Massachusetts had no breeding pairs, but it now has
about a dozen.
Maine has the largest loon population in New England
by far, but after 20 years of slow and steady growth,
the state’s loon census may have stopped rising, the Maine
Audubon Society said after its 2003 count.
Susan Gallo, a Maine Audubon wildlife biologist, said
it’s not clear if the population has peaked or merely
paused, or whether the numbers are cause for concern,
The New York study "will help identify important
aspects of the loon’s life cycle and will be useful in
assessing problems this species encounters in New York
state and throughout the Northeast to help further protect
the common loon population," said Erin Crotty, state
environmental conservation commissioner.
Data could help protect loons and pinpoint a source of
exotic disease or other threats that could surface in
the 6-million acre Adirondack State Park.
The research "will fill in missing gaps about the
life history of Adirondack loons," said Nina Schoch,
program coordinator for the Adirondack Cooperative Loon
Program, which includes the Audubon Society of New York
State and the Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks.
"By understanding where loons migrate once they
leave the Adirondacks, conservationists will be able to
better protect these magnificent birds in both their breeding
and wintering areas," Schoch said.
Students throughout North America will be able to follow
the loons and better understand their lifestyle through
a Web site and classroom course that will be made available
in the fall.
The dark, fish-eating birds live along shorelines throughout
the Adirondacks. Their ruffled, slow flight from shoreline
trees is an increasingly prized sight for canoers and
"The common loon is an enduring and revered symbol
of the Adirondack wilderness," said Brian Houseal
of The Adirondack Council. "Loons only make their
homes on undeveloped shorelines and are very apprehensive
around people and noise. While that trait has helped them
to survive as a species, we know far too little about
them and their migratory habits."