I was worried about the loons that live on our lake last night when I went to bed. We had been at the cabin since noon. After dinner, we took a canoe ride around the lake, before dusk. Dusk is typically the time we can see loons floating and diving on our lake. It is also the time they start to call. We knew they were back on the lake because we had seen and heard them at the end of April while we had visitors to our cabin. Last night, however, while we saw what can only be described as a turkey vulture roost – at least thirty in one tree, we did not see my beloved loons. More concerning was that we did not hear them. Right up until bed, even though I made a point to listen, there were no loon calls on the lake.
I went to bed concerned. Had the loon fall out last month affected our loon population? A loon fallout is a fairly rare event, according to Marge Gibson a biologist from REGI (Raptor Education Group, Inc.) in Antigo, Wisconsin who stated on a WPR interview that it has only happened three times since 1990.
What is a loon fallout? After our visit to our cabin in Northern Wisconsin at the end of April, I heard that there had been a loon fallout on one of the many wildlife pages I follow on social media. Basically, the loons that were migrating back to our area in Northern Wisconsin were affected by atmospheric conditions that produced ice crystals and then coated the loons with these as they tried to fly. Once coated, they fall like rocks from the sky landing like living lumps on the ground and sustaining injuries from such a fall. Still, you might ask- what’s the problem?
Well, loons are a special bird. The loon fallout affect is described well in this Milwaukee newspaper article. Loons are water birds. They do not do well on land. Loons need to be in the water to take off and fly, as well as be mobile to catch food. Living on land is not what loons were meant to do. Thus, when they literally fall from the sky, and are stranded in a field, emergency help is needed.
The call went out on April 28th to contact REGI or DNR personal if a loon was found stranded on land. Loons can be dangerous. Most likely, they were also injured during the fall out. It was suggested that experts be called into assist a return to water.
Thus, my concern when I did not hear our lake loons at dusk last night. After retiring for the night, my husband and I were reading and I heard it!
“Did you hear that?” I asked my husband.
“No. What?” he asked.
“I heard a loon! They’re okay,” was my response!
Little did I know that I would hear loon calls for most of the night. This was odd. Loons will call for their young to return to the nest. I wondered aloud this morning, to my husband, if someone had not returned home. The calls were long and constant, throughout the night.
Still, I was happy to hear the loons calling!
What can we do to help loons?
The loon population has decreased in Wisconsin. The reason for this is not clear. It is being studied. One reason is the shoreline encroachment by humans. It is suggested that we give the loons a wide berth. Certainly, this is true when on the water.
We only have non-motorized boats. Canoes and kayaks. We are much less of a threat than those in boats with motors. Did you know that baby loons cannot fly? They cannot get out of your way. So, slow down in that big party boat!
Lead sinkers are another cause of loon mortality. This is a simple fix. Do not use lead sinkers. Do not throw fishing line and/or hooks back into the water. Be responsible and our wildlife will appreciate it.
I am so glad I heard the loons last night.
Another source of information about loons and their varied calls is Journey North. There are quite a few pages including characteristics, ecology, and conservation. But, the page most interesting to me is the page on loon calls, found here.