People and Loons: Sharing Michigan's Lakes

By: Joanne C. Williams,
State Coordinator MLPA/MLW

Michigan has many beautiful natural treasures and one of them is the exquisite Common Loon. Michigan Loonwatch (MLW) was begun in 1986, and the MLPA (Michigan Loon Preservation Association) was formed in 1987 to help protect and preserve this very special bird.  We work together to  monitor loons and their habitat on lakes throughout our state, with the help of our over 400 volunteer Loon Rangers, Area Coordinators and others. We also work to promote conservation of our beautiful lakes.  This is important for Michigan, for our loons and other waterbirds,  and for people to continue to enjoy and use our lakes into the future.

  There are many factors, both from nature and from human influence, that can affect loon nesting success and survival.  There is sometimes little that can be done to help with many natural problems, although we do install Artificial Nest Islands (ANI) on some lakes where loons have had difficulty  nesting because of changing  water levels and other factors.  The ANI are sometimes used also on lakes where human influence has changed the loons' habitat. 

  One of the main factors in human impact on lakes and loons, as well as other waterbirds, is the use of watercraft on the lakes.  MLPA/MLW has developed a new Boating Education Program and brochure as part of our efforts to reach Michigan boaters and lake users, to promote better understanding of the needs of loons and other waterbirds and to speak for the conservation of our beautiful lakes as we share this very special resource.  We have been awarded two grants, from the Michigan DNR Natural Heritage Nongame Wildlife Fund and from the Audubon Society of Kalamazoo that together will help with our new Program's implementation and evaluation.

  Our new brochure "Michigan's Loons and Responsible Watercraft Use" is being distributed throughout the state  at many locations and events, including  wildlife programs and other educational presentations, and at nature centers, stores and libraries and through mailings.  It is also being placed by our members and by other groups and agencies with which we work, at marinas, boat launch areas and other places frequented by boat owners and users, to a very favorable response.

Plan Now for Next Summer!

  Since the beginning of our Michigan Loonwatch Program, an important part of our protection efforts for the loons has been the use of information buoys and Artificial Nesting Islands (ANI). Buoys have been used when there is possible disturbance to the nest site area, and ANIs are used where there has been degradation or loss of the nest site, of suitable habitat for a nest site or where conditions such as predation have caused loons to lose the nest, eggs or chicks. They can also be placed when it appears that loons have recently left a lake because of inability to nest or to nest successfully, and also where loons have nested in the past or when they appear to be "scouting out" a lake for nesting and are unable to find a suitable area.

With the increase in development along the lakeshore areas and the resulting decrease in loon nesting habitat, ANI are being considered for placement more and more, and requests for them are increasing. Extra requests for buoys are also being made as human lake use increases. Both buoys and ANI, when used properly, can have a positive influence on the nesting success of the loons and help provide for their survival.

 INFORMATION BUOYS: Large information buoys can be floated around the loon nesting area to warn boaters of the presence of loons. The DNR Law Enforcement and Wildlife Divisions have designed a special loon information buoy that is 61" long, 9" in diameter, And weighs 56 pounds. The buoy has a loon silhouette and reads: "Do not enter- Loon Nesting Area."

These buoys have been used with good success. They are placed only where there is a definite problem with human disturbance and where the buoys and nest can be watched, Buoys are placed in a radius around the nest area, about 500 feet out from the nest site, so boaters or personal watercraft users will see  them well before entering the nest area. They should not be used where they may draw attention to a nest and increase activity by birdwatchers, curious boaters or fishermen.

These buoys cannot be placed without obtaining a permit from the DNR District Law Supervisor, and requires a new permit each year. The application will also be reviewed by the District Fisheries and Wildlife Supervisors.

 A Loon Buoy Protocol and Procedure packet with a permit copy can be obtained from MLPA/ MLW. We also own a limited number of buoys. The buoys cart be ordered from Smith & Nephew Roylan in Menominee Falls, WI.

 Nesting Platforms: Artificial Nesting Islands (ANI), floating manmade platforms or rafts, can be constructed of various materials. They can be made of wood, cedar logs or PVC pipe. The frame is wrapped with wire or plastic mesh, and the ANI anchored usually near a previous nesting site. They are relatively inexpensive and easy to make, but usually do require hauling out each fall and replacement in the spring. The wood or cedar log platforms are heavier than the PVC design, and also must be replaced after several years as the logs become water-soaked and deteriorate.

 The PVC platform, designed by Area Coordinator Jeff Lange, and tested for two years in a study partly funded by Michigan Natural Heritage, is also well accepted by the loons and has been used successfully for several years. It is much in favor for its light weight and ease of handling.

 A permit is not required for the placement of an ANI. However, they may not obstruct waterways, and under the authority of the Marine Safety Act, they can be ordered to be relocated or removed by a Conservation Officer if considered to be a hazard.

MLPA/MLW has an ANI informational packet available with plans for both cedar and PVC nest islands. If you think your lake needs an ANI, contact us and we can help with information and to determine if and where a platform might be useful. Platform materials and assistance in construction may also be available.