By Ava Rohleder, Community Outreach Intern, National Loon Center
A big weekend for our lake country waters is approaching: The 4th of July. This federal holiday prompts folks to get together with friends and family to spend time playing cards in cabins, by the shore circled around a bonfire, and of course, out on the lake swimming, boating, fishing, and canoeing, from sun rise to sun set. While participating in fun summertime activities, we must keep in mind that we are visitors on these precious waters. I would like to share tips on behalf of the National Loon Center in hopes we can collectively have a loon and lake friendly holiday weekend.
When taking your first step into the water, you may notice nesting loons near the shoreline. Adult Common Loons usually nest along the protected areas on freshwater lakes and once the eggs hatch, the small chicks are quite vulnerable. Staying at least 200 feet from loon families, will give them enough space to remain undisturbed. Loons will do the penguin dance if they feel threatened, and seeing this display is a sign to back away. If you hear the tremolo of a loon, that is another warning sign that either you or a predator is too close to the loon or their chicks. Keep this knowledge in mind, and appreciate all wildlife from a non-intrusive distance.
Cruising around the lake and reeling in fish is certainly part of the fun, but we can be careful in our actions. When out on the boat, keeping a slow speed near the shoreline protects the nests and homes of various wild animals, including loons. Wakes should be limited to open areas in the middle of large lakes. Additionally, all fast moving water crafts should always watch out for swimming and diving loons. The National Loon Center recently received a call from a community member that found a deceased loon near shore. I brought the loon to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for necropsy studies. The diagnosis came back that the likely cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. We are not able to say for sure what could cause that, but we might guess that it would have been from a boat or jet ski collision. The National Loon Center began research on loon mortalities in 2021. Last year, one of the necropsied loons was also diagnosed with blunt force trauma. To avoid facing similar situations going forward, water craft drivers should be mindful and attentive at all times.
The necropsy studies have revealed other unfortunate outcomes for the loons. Last summer, at Big Lake Resort, a deceased loon was found and results indicated lead intoxication as the likely cause of death. Lost lead pieces at the bottom of a lake can be mistaken as a pebble by loons or loons may consume fish that carry lead jigs and sinkers. In each situation, the loon would most likely fatally suffer from lead poisoning. Thus, fishing lead-free and keeping fishing lines out of the water when loons and other wildlife are nearby keeps all inhabitants of the lake safe.
Humans and wildlife alike depend on clean water to survive. Putting in effort to keep any pollutants and unnatural substances out of the water is important to keeps our lakes healthy. We recommend using rest facilities located on shore, not using soaps or shampoos in the lakes, and using trash containers on our boats and at our campsites. We encourage you to clean your watercraft and gear before leaving any water access or shoreland, taking special care to remove any aquatic plants, especially invasive species like zebra mussels. To ensure our kids will have healthy lakes to play in, and our loons and other wildlife will have a suitable habitat, we can start with keeping our waters clean today.
The lakes are a special place that we hope people will get to enjoy on the 4th of July weekend for generations to come. Thank you in advance for respecting freshwater ecosystems not only this upcoming weekend, but each day following. We want to keep the Common Loons common and we need your help. The magical call of the loon contributes to making your experience in the north woods so memorable- so join us in answering the call and protecting our loons long into the future.
Wishing you all a safe and fun holiday!