February 2022
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LPC News & Events
Presentation Playback: Our Favorite Loon Stories by Daniel and Virginia Poleschook
On February 3rd, Daniel and Virginia Poleschook presented stories about many of the banded loons that they have monitored during their 27 years studying loons in Washington. Their presentation covered family histories, stories of migration, and other fascinating facts and details about these loons. For those who were unable to attend live, the presentation was recorded and can be accessed here.
Photo courtesy of Virginia and Daniel Poleschook.
LPC at Work
On January 15th, Nordic skaters recreating on Lake Winnipesaukee came across a concerning sight: 10 common loons remaining in a patch of open water roughly a mile west of Tuftonboro Neck, on the verge of the broads. Because their wings are short and narrow relative to their weight, loons require a 'runway' of up to a quarter of a mile to take off. When the ice closes in around them, they can be left stranded, unable to take flight. This can have deadly consequences—if forced up on top of the ice as lakes freeze over, loons will either starve to death or become an easy target for predators. At the time they were initially reported to us, the stretch of open water the loons were in was still quite large, and it was possible that they might be able to take off on their own. The opening was also much too large for a rescue attempt to be possible. However, sub-zero temperatures were on the forecast for much of the coming week, and it was likely that the hole would shrink.

With the skaters' help, we monitored the situation. By January 21st, the opening in the ice had shrunk, and we were ready to try a rescue. Members of the Tuftonboro Fire Department and New Hampshire Fish and Game officers came out with us to assist and help keep everyone safe during the rescue attempt. Unfortunately, the opening was still a bit too large, and the loons managed to evade us.
LPC staff members, Tuftonboro firefighters, NH Fish and Game Conservation Officers, and Nordic skaters collaborated on the first rescue attempt.
That night, temperatures dipped well below zero. A check the next morning revealed that the hole had closed in substantially. The loons were now confined to a patch of open water roughly 10 feet in diameter. Knowing a rescue was likely to be successful and that the hole might completely freeze over if we waited any longer (forcing the loons up onto the ice where they would be at risk), LPC staff once again made the mile-long trek out to the loons. Though they dove and tried to evade us, we were able to capture all 10 loons over the course of roughly 4 hours using a combination of long-handled landing nets and a gill net. The loons were placed in boxes, loaded up on ice fishing sleds, and walked back to shore. We then transported them to the Loon Center, where it was all hands on deck as we took blood samples to check their lead levels and overall health. Three of the rescued loons were already banded (their bands identified them as males that spend their summers on Purity Lake in Eaton, Red Hill Pond in Sandwich, and Orange Pond in Canaan). The remaining 7 were given a single plastic band on their left legs so that we could tell them apart and match bloodwork results to the correct loon.
LPC biologists John Cooley, Caroline Hughes, and Tiffany Grade work to retrieve a gill net in which they've caught a loon.
Tiffany, John, and Caroline remove a captured loon from the gill net.
Next, we brought the loons to VCA Capital Area Veterinary Emergency and Specialty, where radiographs were taken to assess whether they had any internal injuries. Thankfully, the radiographs came back clean for all 10 loons. Though they were a bit thin after their ordeal, none had any internal injuries that would prevent them from being released. The bloodwork came back clean for 9 of the 10—the tenth loon had slightly elevated lead levels. This loon’s radiograph did not show a metal object, indicating that it had managed to pass whatever had caused its mild case of lead poisoning. All ten loons were transferred to Wings of the Dawn Wildlife Rehabilitation, where rehabilitator Maria Colby kept them for feeding and observation. Maria also treated the lead poisoned loon with chelation medicine to remove the toxic metal from its body. The loons were hungry—in the day they were with Maria, they ate a combined total of nearly 30 pounds of fish!
Fortunately, we had enough boxes on hand at the Loon Center to hold all of the loons!
After consultation with loon expert veterinarian Dr. Mark Pokras, the loons were found to be fit for release. On January 24th, we met with Maria at Odiorne Point to complete the banding process and release the loons. The three loons that were already banded were able to be immediately released, while the 7 that were not yet fully banded were given 3 more bands in addition to the single one they had received on Saturday. Bands are given to each loon in a unique color combination of 2 per leg, which allows us to recognize and identify individual loons when we see them. If these rescued loons return to a New Hampshire lake in the future, we'll know! After the banding process was completed, the loons were released on the ocean, where they will spend the winter.
Wildlife Rehabilitator Maria Colby and LPC Squam Lakes Biologist Tiffany Grade release one of the rescued loons on the ocean.
We are incredibly grateful to the people and organizations who helped us to rescue, treat, and release all 10 of these iced-in loons: the Nordic skaters who found the loons and reported them to us; the members of the Tuftonboro Fire Department and New Hampshire Fish and Game who assisted with the first rescue attempt and helped to keep our staff safe; the staff at VCA Capital Area Veterinary Emergency and Specialty, who radiographed the loons; Dr. Mark Pokras, whose expertise was (as always) invaluable in helping to evaluate the condition of the loons, and wildlife rehabilitator Maria Colby, who cared for the loons and ensured that they were strong enough to be released. We are incredibly fortunate to have such a wonderful community of people to work with to help New Hampshire's loons!
Our winter band resight data indicates that New Hampshire breeding loons tend to spend their winters off of the New England coast. The loons that we released at Odiorne Point will be in good company this winter!
Loon Fact of the Month
What caused 10 adult loons, 9 of which had no discernable health problems, to become iced in? As we evaluated the loons, we discovered that most were in the midst of molting their primary feathers (the large feathers on the outer tips of the wings). These feathers are required for flight, and without them the loons were trapped, unable to take off as the ice came in. The molt of primary feathers is normal—loons' feathers get worn out and need to be replaced each year. However, it typically occurs when loons are on their wintering grounds and have no need to fly. We can only speculate as to why these 10 loons did not leave their lakes for the ocean in the fall and early winter, when migration normally occurs. It is possible that warm autumn and December temperatures may have overridden the other cues that would typically trigger their migration. What we do know for certain is that by the time the ice started coming in in late January, it was too late for the loons to make it off of the lake on their own—they were caught in the middle of their feather molt and unable to leave.
Compare the short, stubby wings of the rescued loon on the left with the wings of the loon on the right. Note the missing flight feathers on the rescued loon. Photos courtesy of Mary Hoyt (left) and Kittie Wilson (right).
More About the Wing Molt

For loons, the wing molt is simultaneous—they lose all of their primary feathers at once, rather than replacing the feathers sequentially over time. Loons have heavy bodies and relatively short and narrow wings, resulting in high rates of wing loading (the amount of weight supported by each square inch of wing). That means that loons have to work hard to take flight, and once in the air it takes sustained effort (constant wing flapping) for them to remain in flight. The loss of small numbers of feathers over time may, then, make this process even more difficult—as Glen Woolfenden noted in his paper on the subject, the loss of even one primary feather from each wing would be a considerable handicap for a loon when it comes to taking off and sustaining flight. Thus, while it leaves them flightless for 4-6 weeks, a simultaneous wing molt may be a better strategy for loons than a stepwise molt (in which the feathers on each wing molt sequentially) because the latter would make flight more difficult (or impossible) for them over an even longer period of time.
Loons must work hard to take off and maintain flight. Video courtesy of World of Nature.
In many bird species, flight feathers are lost and replaced during the post-breeding molt, which typically occurs in the late summer or early fall. While loons go through a partial molt at this time (replacing the black and white feathers on their heads and bodies with their more drab grey and white winter plumage), they do not molt their flight feathers until much later. That’s because it takes 4–6 weeks for loons to replace their flight feathers and in that time, they are flightless. If loons were to molt these feathers in the fall, they would risk becoming iced-in if their lake froze over in early winter. Instead, loons delay their flight feather molt until winter, when they are (or should be) on their wintering grounds and have no need to fly.
In the fall, loons undergo an incomplete molt, replacing the worn black and white feathers of their breeding plumage with the grey feathers of their winter plumage. This molt starts at the base of the bill (as shown in this photo) and works backwards across the body. The flight feathers on their wings are not replaced at this time—those feathers are replaced in the winter, when loons are on the ocean. Photo courtesy of Brian Reilly.
New Item Spotlight
This month, add some loon themed decor to your kitchen with the Loon Pattern Oven Mitt set! This three piece set features one loon print oven mitt, one light blue waffle towel, and one dark blue waffle towel. Get yours in our online store!
Loon Preservation Committee | 603-476-LOON (5666) | www.loon.org
The Loon Preservation Committee is dedicated to restoring and maintaining a healthy population of loons throughout New Hampshire; monitoring the health and productivity of loon populations as sentinels of environmental quality; and promoting a greater understanding of loons and the natural world.