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How Close is Too Close? An Overview of Loon Stress Behaviors

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Share the lake with loons Here are some guidelines to avoid disturbance or harm Boat slowly near loons to avoid colliding with them or creating large wakes that can separate parents from chicks or swamp shoreline nests Loon chicks can be hard to spot on the water and loons may surface in the path of your boat it s hard to avoid them if you re going fast Boat collisions are a leading cause of loon deaths Obey no wake laws You can protect nests from boat wakes by obeying laws requiring watercraft to travel at no wake speeds within 200 feet of shore or islands Make sure your wake isn t crashing on shore which could flood a nest Be careful near shore Canoes kayaks paddle boards and fishing boats can move quietly along the shoreline and startle nesting loons Watch the shoreline as you travel and move away from any loons or nests you observe Stay away from areas with floating nests or signage Do not collect eggs from unattended The Loon Restoration Project is a five year collaboration between Maine Audubon Maine Lakes Lakes Environmental Association and Penobscot Indian Nation to increase loon nesting success and reduce mortality from boat collisions and lead poisoning from lead fishing tackle If you re interested in learning more about how you can help protect nesting loons and loon families please contact any one of the project partners Maine Audubon conserve maineaudubon org 207 781 2330 Lakes Environmental Association maggie mainelakes org 207 647 8580 Maine Lakes Info Lakes ME 207 495 2301 Penobscot Indian Nation 207 817 7363 This project is funded by the U S Fish and Wildlife Service on behalf of the Bouchard Barge 120 Buzzards Bay Oil Spill Trustees How Close is Too Close nests Watch loons from a distance using binoculars If a loon is showing stress behaviors leave the area You are too close if your presence causes a loon to move away or change its behavior An Overview of Loon Stress Behaviors How far away should I stay from loons It s a great question since loons may abandon their nests or their young if they feel they are in danger Some sources suggest staying at least 150 feet away from loons and their nests Yet distance guidelines alone are not always the best way to keep loons safe On some lakes loons are very sensitive to human presence and more distance is needed to prevent them from leaving the nest or their chicks On other lakes loons may be more relaxed and may even approach people Reactions to humans vary by loon and the same loon can respond differently at different times of the season or depending on your behavior

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Loon Behavior Relaxed Relaxed loons are better able to incubate and hatch eggs and feed and care for their young Concerned Be alert for subtle changes in posture that may tell you that a loon is feeling threatened If you see any of these signs of concern back away until the loon resumes normal behavior Nesting is a vulnerable time for loons that typically incubate eggs between late May and July and care for their young into the fall Disturbance during the breeding season can affect nesting success It just takes a little time to learn how to read the warning signs that you are too close Thank you for keeping your distance and backing away or leaving if you see any of these signs of stress or concern Photo Gail Smith Photo Gil Shelden Photo Mark Wilson Photo Kittie Wilson Penguin dance If you are too close a loon may perform a penguin dance rearing up and rapidly paddling its feet in the water with its wings either spread out or clasped against its body Photo Kittie Wilson Riding low This loon is watching a possible threat while trying not to be seen Loons normally float low in the water but when concerned they will sink even lower and may also put their heads down Wing flapping Flapping their wings is a normal part of preening and bathing for loons Loons also sometimes flap their wings to indicate unease Based on Understanding Loons Learn to Read the Signs by the Loon Preservation Committee reprinted with permission Crouched on nest When loons feel threatened while on the nest they will put their heads down This position indicates the loons may leave the nest and expose the eggs to heat cold or predators Stretched neck This loon is aware of a potential threat and is stretching its neck to look around and evaluate any danger Preening Relaxed loons spend time each day bathing and preening using their bills to smooth and maintain the waterproofing of their feathers Photo Robert Alford Photo xxxxxxx Any vocalizations or dramatic behaviors given when you are close to or approaching a loon can indicate stress If you see or hear any of these behaviors you re too close Raised squared off forehead A nervous loon may raise the feathers on its forehead giving it this squaredoff look Relaxed neck A relaxed loon holds its head in a neutral position while on the nest or on the water Learn to Read the Warnings Stressed Photo Mark Wilson Warning calls If you approach a loon on a nest or one with chicks it might give a loud yodel or a tremolo alarm call that sounds like laughter Photo Kittie Wilson

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