The loon is a type of aquatic bird few people are familiar with, for many might easily mistake it for a duck. But even fewer people are aware of the dire situation it currently is in and about how a group of Portland researchers is trying to restore the loon population in the Bay State.
Currently, in Massachusetts, the population of the birds is lower than 50 pairs and some conservation efforts have been started in order to rebuild the population using a few chicks from New York and Maine.
The Biodiversity Research Institute in Portland has begun a program called Restore the Call, which plans to move ten chicks in an area in the south of Boston this summer. The Director of the Institute, David Evers, is optimistic about their efforts even as they are starting out small.
“All we need to do is establish one pair. Once that one pair is established and once that pair produces young, and those young come back, and they start to establish territories, then you’ve got some brooding that can start from that little seed.”
Some might say, Evers is overly optimistic since loon population tends to recover slowly because of their breeding behavior, mating only after being several years old. Also, they depend on high-quality habitat without certain disturbances.
A few centuries ago, loons were common as they lived all over Massachusetts. The causes of the population decline and the near extinction of the loon were hunting and habitat loss. The last few eggs were found near Boston in 1898. During 1970, the state saw the return of the loon in low numbers as it currently has only 45 pairs.
The loon population had a similar fate in not worse, in other states such as Oregon, Montana, and Washington. It is an endangered species in New Hampshire. Overall, researchers estimate the number of loons in the US to be around 14,000.
Fortunately, the bird has seen a slightly better life in Canada, where it is a national symbol. The populations there remain strong but face threats from mercury and lead pollution.
Were you aware of the fate of the loon population in the US?
Image source: Wikimedia