Montana Loons

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Loon Society

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About the
Montana Loon Society

National concern for common loons began in the 1970’s following increased awareness about the effect of DDT on water birds.

Early loon research helped define nesting and nursery habitat requirements, clutch and brood sizes, pair bond establishment, and general dates of spring arrival, nest initiation, and hatch.

Between 1980-1986, Montana researchers and volunteers defined the breeding range and breeding-lake characteristics of loons. In 1986, the Montana Loon Society established the first systematic breeding survey or "Loon Day".

Results from 1999 – 2013 show that Montana continues to support the largest breeding population of common loons in the western continental United States with a 10-year average summer count of 216 individuals. This population consists of an average of 62 territorial pairs, 52 non-breeding “single” adults, and 41 chicks. Since surveys began in the late 1980’s, the population has remained remarkably stable. Chick production in Montana appears to be above average with between .66 and 0.70 chicks fledged per territorial pair. The chart and graphs below show this steady rate.

Montana Loon Society Membership Brochure. Click to download a printable PDF version.
1999-2013 Loon Day Survey Results
1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 20007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Territorial Pairs 60
68 58 58 67 67 52 64 65 65 51 80 75 74
Chicks Feldged 38
52 36 52 36 35 36 41 41 39 41 44 44 54

1999-2013 Montana Territorial Pairs and
Number of Chicks Fledged

The number of territorial loon pairs
has increased in Montana by 23% since 2000 (top line) and the number of chicks fledged (bottom line) has ranged between 35 in 2005 with a high of 54 in 2013.

Montana's Sustainable Loon Population 1999-2013

In addition, national models indicate that 0.48 fledged young per territory (overall) is needed for a sustainable population.
At no time in the past 15 years did Montana drop below the sustainable population level.

Graphs by Chris Hammond, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Also find these graphs on Biodiversity Research Institute’s Montana Loon Status Report at: Scroll down and click on publications.

Between 1986 and 1992, researchers determined that human disturbances during the nesting season had a detrimental effect on breeding loons.

MLS soon implemented a management program that relied on nest area closures using floating signs and public education at high use areas.
Later, banding efforts determined that loons nesting in Montana were wintering on the Pacific Coast and that blood-mercury levels in captured birds were minimal. The increase of human recreational and development activities on loon breeding lakes soon outpaced voluntary public education efforts. In response, recent management efforts include establishing a second loon survey in May, creating a statewide, standardized database, and funding Loon Ranger positions.

In 1997, the first banding and trace metal analysis for
common loons was conducted in the state. Banding and testing continues.

In 1999, the Common Loon Working Group (CLWG), which is a collection of individuals from various federal and state agencies, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Blackfeet and industry, began. Since, the CLWG has managed Montana’s loon data.

In 2000, the CLWG and MLS secured funding to implement a pilot Loon Ranger Program through Montana Fish, Wildlife and Park’s internship program. Since 2004, three or more loon rangers have been places around the state each year.

Loon Rangers Justin Paugh, left, and Lynn Kelly
Loon Ranger Tim Dykstra

Banding results showed the loons in spring migrate quickly back to their nesting territory. In 2005, a Montana loon made a historic flight from Morro Bay, CA to Lower Stillwater Lake near Kalispell traveling over 1000 miles in between 3 and 6 days.

In 2006, the Montana Loon Society produced four educational loon trunks that are placed around the state. (To learn more about these trunks click on our menu item, “Educational Loon Trunks" or click here to learn more about trunks.

In 2010, the Montana Loon Society produced a Montana Motor Vehicle sponsored license plate now available at county courthouses around the state.

Would you like to learn more about the Montana Loon Society? Click here for our Montana Loon Society Newsletter.