The Montana Loon Society’s Purpose is to:
  • Monitor Montana’s loon population.
  • Protect and enhance critical loon habitat.
  • Facilitate cooperation between government agencies, lakeshore owners, and the general public on behalf of loons.
  • Identify management needs and obtain funds for these projects.
  • Increase public knowledge and awareness of loons.


The Montana Loon Society monitors common loons and their reproduction each year in Montana. Monitoring is a valuable management tool that shows lake utilization, loon population, and chick production. Potential breeding lakes and foraging lakes are both monitored. Foraging lakes are used by loons for feeding and resting. They also provide a home for bachelor birds that do not have a territory, mate or nest. Montanans, and visitors to our state, love to watch Montana’s loons, so it’s safe to say that our loons are well monitored all summer, but specific counts occur twice a year. These counts are conducted in May and in July.

May Loon Day

In the middle of May, on the closest Saturday to May 15, the Montana Loon Society and our volunteers take part in the May Loon Day. This count is to monitor returning loons in spring. Although some area lakes are still frozen over, or not accessible due to snow or closed roads, this count helps identify as many adult loons as possible that have returned in spring. This count also helps identify lakes with returning banded birds.

July Loon Day

In the middle of July, on the Saturday closest to July 15, the Montana Loon Society and our volunteers take part in the Montana July Loon Day. This count is to monitor adult loons and any chicks that hatched in summer. On this day, our volunteers count loons on lakes before noon to avoid counting a bird twice. However, if the count can’t take place before noon or on the specific day, other observations are taken into consideration. Volunteers also look for and report banded loons.

For the past twenty years, the July Loon Day count has provided important information about Montana’s loons.

If you would like to volunteer to take part in either loon count, May or July, contact the Montana Loon Society.
Phone: (406) 926-2131

Glacier National Park Summer Loon Day

About 20% of Montana’s loons live in Glacier National Park, so the park also takes part in the Summer Loon Day count through its Citizen Science Project.

To learn more visit the Glacier National Park Common Loon Citizen Science Project website at:
Common Loon Citizen Science Project – Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center (U.S. National Park Service) (

The Common Loon Citizen Science Project in conjunction with the Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center has developed a beautiful, in-depth look at Glacier National Park’s common loons.  Click on link to view “Loons on the Edge Story Map” to learn more about loons, hear loon calls, and learn about threats and disturbances to loons in the park.

Story Maps – Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center (U.S. National Park Service)


Another purpose of the Montana Loon Society is to protect and enhance critical loon habitat. Common loons are listed both nationally and by the state of Montana. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mountain-Prairie Region 6, lists common loons as a “Species of Management Concern.” Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MT FWP) lists common loons a “Species of Concern.” (A Species of Concern are native taxa that are at-risk due to declining population trends, threats to their habitats, restricted distribution, and/or other factors.)

To Learn More see: Common Loon – Montana Field Guide

As a Species of Concern the Montana Common Loon Working Group (CLWG), a collection of individuals from various federal and state agencies, industry, private, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and the Blackfeet, oversees Montana’s common loon population. To accomplish the management goals of the state, the Montana Common Loon Working Group, assisted by the Montana Loon Society, developed the Montana Loon Ranger Program.

Montana Loon Ranger Program

Loon Rangers are usually Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks interns or US Forest Service technicians that are hired each summer for about six weeks between early May to mid-July to monitor and oversee the needs of Montana’s loons. (After their loon work is complete, many serve the remainder of the summer in other capacities.)

Nest protection is a high priority.

A common loon’s feet are attached far back on its body. This is great for swimming and diving, but not so great for walking. The only time a loon goes on land is to nest. Nests are usually at the water edge. A loon’s inability to walk well on land or take off in flight from land, makes a loon skittish while it is on the nest.

Loon parents leave the nest if watercraft comes within 150 yards of the nest (the length of 1 ½ football fields). This leaves the eggs without warmth or protection. If a frightened loon gets off the nest too quickly, it might kick an egg off the nest and into the water. If disturbed often, loons might abandon the nest. A pair may renest if it isn’t too late in the season, but they only have two chances.

Nest Protection

An effective management method to protect nesting sites from disturbance by people is posting floating signs on public lakes that warn people that a nest is near.

First, the loon ranger identifies the nest.

After a nest is documented, the loon ranger places Loon Nesting Sanctuary Signs around the nest to ask the public to stay back.

After posting the floating signs, the loon ranger places information signs at key areas, especially at public boat launches, detailing the function and reason for floating signs.

Since its inception in 2000, many loon rangers have worked with Montana’s loons. To learn more, watch our “Loon Rangers at Work,” 4:39 minute video.

Loons give a warning, too. Their distress call sounds like a laugh. Listen for and heed this call. It means, “Please Move Away!”

If you see a loon “dancing” by raising its chest up out of the water and slapping the water with its wings, this is their defense posture. It is URGENT that you move away. You are in their territory!

To learn more, please read our printable Responsible Watercraft Use and Montana’s Loons brochure.


Another purpose of the Montana Loon Society is to facilitate cooperation between government agencies, lakeshore owners, and the general public on behalf of loons.

In North America this includes working with other provinces and states. We share loon information, attend national symposiums when and if possible, and support the work of our loon partners to the east, west, north, and south.

Please see Range Map on MT Fish Wildlife and Parks Common Loon – Montana Field Guide

The Montana Loon Society is a contributing member of the Common Loon Working Group, providing input, volunteers, and funding.

The Montana Loon Society also supports other statewide wildlife manager meetings.

On local lakes, the Montana Loon Society strives to work together with communities and lakeshore owners to understand the needs of a particular lake.


Another purpose of the Montana Loon Society is to identify management needs and obtain funds for these projects. Along with the Loon Ranger Program, a recent major project included banding some of Montana’s common loons over a ten year period of time.

Prior to 1996, people did not know where Montana’s common loons spent the winter. In 1996, the Montana Loon Society, with the help of Biodiversity Research Institute in Maine, banded the first loons in Montana to learn where our birds spent the winter and where they returned in spring. Another banding followed in 1997. (Loon chicks this young are not banded. However blood was drawn for testing.)

Since then, the Montana Loon Society has supported the banding work completed at the direction of the Common Loon Working Group.

An adult loon might wear a number of bands. A silver band with a number on it is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service band. A silver, numbered band found on any bird should be reported to them. A colorful band tells the state more about that specific bird.

A loon chick can be banded when it is old enough.

In Montana, a loon banding takes place at night.
The birds are spotted with a spotlight.
A loon with chicks will stay on the surface to protect the chicks.
When located, the boat surges forward, and a bird is scooped up in a large net.
Sample feathers are removed to test for mercury.
Blood samples are drawn for further testing.
The bird is measured and weighed.
Bands are placed around the loon’s feet just above its webbed toes.

As quickly as possible, the bird is released.  The next day, the bird will be watched to make sure that all is well.

Banding results show that Montana’s common loons winter on the Pacific Coast from Canada to central California. (We do not know the cause of death for the loons that were found dead.)

Presently, the need for banding has slowed, but Montana’s banded birds will continue to provide much needed information. To encourage loon watchers and the general public to report band sightings, the Montana Loon Society supports a Loon Band Reward Contest.

Click here to download the Band Contest Reward rules and information.


Another purpose of the Montana Loon Society is to increase public knowledge and awareness of loons.

Loon presentations help the public understand the common loon and its needs. Several Montana Loon Society members have developed loon presentations suitable for any age, and for indoor or outdoor venues.

The Montana Loon Society also supports local community festivals and events with our Common Loon Information Booth. When allowed we also sell some loon merchandise to raise funds.

These booths include information not only about loons, but also about invasive species and the use of biodegradable fishing line and non-lead sinkers.

Click here to download printable Montana Lead Free for Loons and Fishing Line Entanglement Brochure.

Children’s Loon Programs

A strength of the Montana Loon Society is our Children’s Program. We have four loon educational trunks placed around the state in areas where loons are found.

These educational trunks can be checked out for up to three weeks at a time. Loaded with lots of hands on activities, these trunks are great for educators and homeschools. (Limited Availability until Covid-19 is under control.)

Children enjoy learning about loons through a variety of activities and games in our Educational Loon Trunk.

To learn more, click here to view or download our printable Loon Trunk Brochure.

Click here to view more Loon Arts and Craft ideas.

To help children learn more about loons, watch and read the story, “Loon Rangers to the Rescue.” (2 minute 53 second video.)


To support the Montana Loon Society and our mission, become a member or purchase our sponsored license plate for your Montana vehicle. The Society must sell 400 of these plates each year for our plate to continue to be offered. The Montana Loon Society Plate as a “forever” plate also counts toward the 400 plates per year, as does trailer license plates, so please consider placing this plate on your utility, horse, and recreational trailers, too.

Get In Touch

P.O. Box 2386 Missoula, MT 59806

Common Loon Images Provided by:

@Daniel Poleschook, Jr. and Virginia R. Poleschook