MOULTONBOROUGH — The Loon Preservation Committee is cautioning that the iconic birds are in the midst of their nesting season and that boaters should take precautions to avoid disturbing the adult loons and their chicks to ensure a successful breeding year for the threatened species.
The nonprofit watchdog group recorded that the first pair of nesting loons it spotted this year was seen on May 18. Since then, more than 40 additional pairs have begun incubating their eggs, which typically hatch around July 4.
The LPC urges boaters to remain at least 150 feet away from loons if the birds show signs of distress such as craning their necks low over a nest. If the birds feel threatened they may be flushed from the nest, leaving their eggs vulnerable to overheating, cooling or predation.
Anyone wanting to see the nesting loons via the LPC’s live loon cam can do so at www.loon.org. The loon cam pair started nesting on May 24; the eggs are expected to hatch between June 22 and 24.
In 2017, the LPC deployed four motion-activated high-definition video cameras to try to understand the effects of changing climate and human disturbances on loon nesting success.
While the cameras were expected to be a boon for biologists, highlights of the footage that can be viewed on the LPC YouTube channel (youtube.com/user/LoonCenter) also proved to be a big hit with the public.
The footage has been viewed by people from all 50 states and some 200 foreign countries, prompting one man to post on the LPC’s blog, “I’m late for work again. I can’t stop watching this nest.”
Harry Vogel, a senior biologist and executive director at the LPC, said that as the cameras reveal more about causes of nest failure, people gain an improved understanding of how to safeguard the nests.
“It takes an educated and motivated public to encourage a culture of respect and appreciation to help loons thrive,” he said.
While the LPC’s mission is to restore and maintain a healthy population of loons throughout the state, its work has a ripple effect by promoting a greater understanding of the natural world and helping other species that depend on clean water and quiet places.
As part of its work, LPC biologists band loons and take a blood sample for testing. Eating a diet almost entirely of fish, loons are good indicators of the health of the environment and the threat posed by mercury and other “legacy contaminants.”
LPC research has discovered that loons don’t breed until they are 6 or 7 years old and then typically lay just two eggs when they nest. Despite intense management, Vogel said, the population is only halfway back to historical numbers.
The best boost the general public can give to loons, Vogel said, is to give them space.
“The only way you should get close is with a good pair of binoculars or a telephoto lens.”
It is a full-time job for a pair of adult loons to feed two chicks, and human interference can be the death knell for a baby bird, Vogel said. Loon eggs hatch within 24 to 36 hours of each other, and dominance is quickly established. If adult loons are worried by the presence of humans, it may be that only the dominant chick gets fed while the other starves.
“Anytime you cause a change in behavior you have impacted that animal,” said Vogel.
Last year, LPC biologists recorded 226 pairs of nesting loons in the state, an increase of 24 pairs from the 2017 count. The arrival of loons on previously unoccupied lakes, and the establishment of new territories on larger lakes that already hosted at least one nesting pair, are credited with the population uptick.
Of the 226 nesting pairs counted last year, 47 used rafts — small artificial islands that LPC floats to help loons cope with varying water levels, predation and shoreline development. An additional 114 nesting pairs were protected with warning signs and rope lines to help remind boaters to give the loons enough space.
Loons are protected from hunting and harassment by state and federal laws. If anyone sees a sick or injured loon, they are asked to call the LPC at 603-476-5666.
If anyone observes the harassment of loons, they are asked to contact the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department at 603-271-3361 or the Marine Patrol at 603-293-2037.