Loon Behaving Lethargically? An Example of What to Do

By Ava Rohleder, Community Outreach Intern, National Loon Center

The National Loon Center received a call on June 21st from a caring Minnesotan in Walker, MN who found a Common Loon “resting” on a Leech Lake shoreline. After observing the bird for several hours, Chip Leer determined that something was amiss. Leer, a National Loon Center board member and renowned outdoor lifestyle guide, was kind enough to share his loon rescue story with us.

“After returning home from a weekend away at a family wedding we noticed a loon on the shoreline. Not that loons are uncommon on Kabekona Bay of Leech Lake, they are not — we purposefully leave windows open at night so we can hear them communicate as it brings us peace. I suppose if we were land lovers we might like the sound of a rooster at 4 a.m., but we’re lake people and prefer the loon 24/7.We noticed that this loon was actually quite a ways out of the water on our small beach and that was unique. It also was odd that it never moved, not an inch. Eventually we witnessed other birds flying by and natural activity taking place, yet still the loon never moved, only to flatten itself as if to stay concealed. We also noticed that the bird appeared tired; its head bobbed as if it was trying not to fall asleep. Initially we avoided the bird hoping it might go away, it didn’t. Then we decided to water some planters lakeside which during any normal wildlife interaction would cause the loon to vacate immediately, but it did not. It was then we decided to make some inquiries.

Photo by Chip Leer

We first called the National Loon Center as a recent newsletter had suggested, and then reached out to various MN DNR offices including our local conservation officer. No luck there as he was on a nuisance bear call and unavailable. Finally, Jon Mobeck, Executive Director of the National Loon Center, and a good personal friend Joe Carlson of Nevis, MN sent contact information almost simultaneously for Julie at Northwoods Wildlife Rescue. Julie phoned and had a number of questions of which she accessed the bird’s health. From that information, she asked, “How adventurous are you?” I replied, “Somewhat, what’s your thought?” She provided detailed instruction on how to capture and transport the bird, and it came together just as she described. She informed us she didn’t have time to come all the way to us as she is currently caring for dozens of baby wild birds/animals at the moment she couldn’t leave for long but would meet us about 30 minutes away. 24/7 those babies were her responsibility. We followed her instructions for capture that included a fishing net, gloves, long sleeves, eye protection and approach angles. We captured the bird without incident and never felt as if we were providing any harm to the bird, it was also apparent the bird was very tired, not much of a struggle. A few pecks to the gloves, but no worries. We transferred the bird to a cardboard box, covered it with a towel and drove 30 minutes to meet with Julie.

Photo by Chip Leer

In summary, we were a bit timid on capturing the bird as we did not want to do it any harm and certainly didn’t want to get hurt in the process, after all this is a wild animal. Julie’s detailed instruction and calm demeanor helped us make and execute a plan that was flawless.”

As of today, the bird is released and doing well after it spent time at both Northwoods Wildlife Rescue and Wild & Free wildlife rehab center. We’ve received updates that the loon had no external injuries visible. The loon had a good first night, ate well in the morning, and was excreting well. The loon’s blood was tested to see if there were any internal problems, and weight and bloodwork results came back excellent.

The wildlife rehabilitators’ best guess is that the loon was chased on shore in a territory dispute. It may have lost a little spat and just been exhausted. The rest and plentiful food seem to have served it well, and now the loon is free.

The National Loon Center is grateful to have such dedicated members, like Chip, on our board. In this case, the abnormal behavior of the loon was good cause to intervene and contact both the NLC and a wildlife professional. Lethargy and unusual behavior could be a sign of lead poisoning. This is a fortunate situation where we discovered the loon appeared to be recovering from an injury and was releasable. Although, in the event of a known territorial dispute of loons we may not necessarily intervene as these are natural occurrences in the lives of loons.

The National Loon Center is grateful to continue to work with organizations such as Wildlife Rehabilitation & Release and the University of Minnesota Raptor Center’s Partners for Wildlife program as well as DNR permitted wildlife rehabilitators in statewide wildlife rescue efforts.

For more information about wildlife rehabilitation please visit:
Wildlife Rehabilitation & Release www.wrr-mn.org
Partners for Wildlife www.raptor.umn.edu/partnersforwildlife

If you wish to contribute toward the protections of loons and loon habitat, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the National Loon Center. www.nationallooncenter.org/national-loon-center-foundation

To support the rehabilitation and release efforts of Wild and Free in Garrison, MN, please visit: www.wildandfree.org

To support the rehabilitation and release efforts of Northwoods Wildlife Rescue in Park Rapids, MN, please visit: https://sites.google.com/view/northwoodswildliferescue/home

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The National Loon Center restores and protects loon breeding habitats, enhances responsible recreation, and catalyzes critical loon and freshwater research.

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National Loon Center

The National Loon Center restores and protects loon breeding habitats, enhances responsible recreation, and catalyzes critical loon and freshwater research.