The last several years have found Michigan's loons increasingly disturbed by watercraft, especially personal watercraft. There have been numerous documented instances of loons being driven from nests, injured, and killed by watercraft, either intentionally or unintentionally. Watercraft registrations continue to increase, and undoubtedly will affect loons for years.
Because of this, the Michigan Loon Preservation Association has developed a brochure entitled "Michigan's Loons and Responsible Watercraft Use". This pamphlet was adapted from an original by the Montana Loon Society, and briefly describes the biology of the Loon, its needs, and threats presented by watercraft operation. The brochure's educational approach reflects the MLPA's conservation efforts: helping the loons also helps other waterfowl and wildlife as well as their habitat, and in turn helps preserve our lakes for everyone to enjoy into the future.
We have received a grant from the Michigan DNR Natural Heritage Grants Program Non-game Wildlife Fund to cover the costs of publication and distribution of the brochure, and are most grateful for this. We would like to have it distributed by our loon rangers, area coordinators, and hope also to enlist other groups to help distribute it at marinas, boat launches, bait and sporting good stores and anywhere people who take part in water sport activity may be reached.
Your MLPA Board of Directors feels that the brochure distribution is critical to address this increasing problem for Michigan's Loons. For a copy of the brochure, Email or write to the MLPA.
Michigan's Loons and Responsible Watercraft Use
Michigan has many treasures, including its beautiful lakes.
The Common Loon, known for its haunting calls and striking black and white breeding plumage, uses a number of these lakes for its summer nesting grounds.
Watercraft operators are naturally drawn to these lakes and often come into close contact with loons. Responsible watercraft use will help ensure that both humans and loons continue to share Michigan’s lakes.
This brochure is funded partially by a grant from the Michigan DNR Natural Heritage Grants Program Nongame Wildlife Fund.
The Common Loon
Common Loons are large, goose sized, black and white diving birds that spend their summer on open fresh water lakes and winter on the seacoast. They feed mostly on fish. They are 2-3 feet long, weigh 8-12 pounds and have a wingspan of 4-5 feet.
Approximate range of the Common Loon in Michigan
Except for a few isolated southern Michigan lakes, Loons in Michigan nest only in the upper 1/2 of the Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula.
The Michigan Loon Preservation Association/Michigan Loonwatch cooperates with the Michigan DNR with education and protection measures to help loons.
Michigan’s Nesting Loons
It is estimated that Michigan has fewer than 500 nesting pairs of Common Loons remaining in the state, and perhaps considerably fewer. The Common Loon is a threatened species in Michigan. Nests are usually made on small islands or in quiet bays, coves, and inlets. They are especially vulnerable to personal watercraft entering these critical areas.
The nesting season in May and June is the loon’s most critical time.
And loons are not like ducks and geese, which have large broods. Loons lay only two eggs, which both parents take turns incubating for 28-29 days.
Boat Traffic Can Cause Loss of Eggs
Loon parents leave if watercraft come within 150 yards of the nest (the length of 1 ½ football fields), leaving the eggs without warmth or protection. They then become vulnerable to predators.
If disturbed often, loons abandon the nest. A pair may renest if it isn’t too late in the season, but they only have two chances. If two loons are together near inlets, marshy shorelines, or backwaters in May or June, a nest site may have been disturbed.
Loon chicks rest, feed and grow in and around their territory during the months of June, July and August. Look for them in backwaters and along the shoreline.
Boat traffic can cause loss of chicks!
Young chicks are not waterproof! They need to be able to climb up on their parents' backs to stay warm and dry. When watercraft come close, parents leave their chicks to defend their territory.
Young chicks are very buoyant and can’t dive quickly to get out of the way. They can be run over.
Chicks tire easily. The presence of watercraft causes them to keep swimming instead of feeding and resting. This can weaken them, affecting their ability to survive.
Ways watercraft affect loons
Canoes slip quietly into nesting areas and can startle loons off nests. Fishing Boats, especially bass and pike anglers, spend lots of time in waters perfect for nest sites. Speed Boats send waves crashing into the shoreline. Personal Watercraft can speed in shallow water and may run over chicks.
Please obey all loon nesting buoy signs.
Floating buoys warning that a nest is near mark some loon nesting areas. Loons give a warning call, too. Their distress call sounds like a laugh. Listen for and heed this call. It means: "Please move away".
If you see a loon "dancing" straight up out of the water, and slapping with its wings, it is Urgent that you move away. You are in their territory.
Enjoy loons from a distance. Listen to their lovely, haunting calls. Enjoy the solitude of Michigan’s lakes. Loons need this solitude to breed and raise their young. If loons are gone, your solitude might be slipping away, too.
To Report Harassment of Loons, call the DNR Report All Poachers Hotline at 1-800-292-7800.
MLPA is grateful to the Montana Loon Society, and the author, Donna Love, for permission to adapt their brochure for our use in Michigan.