Not all loon stories have happy endings.
Last week the BDN’s Christopher Burns told the heart-warming tale of a young loon that was found with a tumor on his foot, received eventual surgery, then was reunited with his parents.
Today the word out of Avian Haven is much different, as the Freedom rehabilitation center announced the death of a loon that had been found by someone at Sennebec Lake Campground in Appleton.
“The caller described the loon as lethargic with labored breathing,” a post on the Avian Haven Facebook page said. “We feared lead poisoning. Volunteer Christie Banow dropped everything to get the loon here as quickly as possible.”
The volunteer’s effort was in vain, however.
“Our fear was confirmed. The loon’s blood lead level was off the scale of our screening instrument, and an X-ray showed fishing gear in her gizzard,” the post said. “She died shortly after arriving. She is believed to be the mother of two chicks still on the lake, presumably/hopefully with their dad.”
Maine has banned the use of certain smaller lead sinkers and jigs that could be ingested by loons or other animals. Despite that ban, which was passed by the Maine Legislature in 2013, the consumption of lead still claims many loons every year, according to Danielle D’Auria, a wildlife biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
“On average we collect and necropsy 25-30 dead loons annually, and lead poisoning tends to account for 20 to 30 percent of those,” D’Auria said. “Most often the loons that die of lead poisoning are otherwise healthy breeding adults.”
The loss of a single loon has a long-lasting impact on the population, she said.
“Because loons are long-lived, the loss of one individual is really the loss of many if you consider that individual’s potential to have offspring for several more years,” D’Auria said. “Loons are generally doing well in Maine, but we continue to monitor the population and sources of mortality to ensure they remain stable.”
The sinker that caused this loon’s death wasn’t a remnant from pre-2013.
“Because of the presence of a relatively new hook, the fishing gear ingested by this loon was likely a recent deposit in Sennebec Lake,” Avian Haven said.
For a list of stores that sell lead-free tackle and to find out how to safely dispose of lead tackle, click here.
D’Auria said people can help loons by being conscious of the threats to them:
— Switch to non-lead tackle and properly dispose of the lead that is in their tackle box so it never gets mistakenly used.
— Clean up any discarded fishing line or tackle they see at boat launches or while out on lakes.
“These steps will not only help protect loons but also many other species of wildlife,” she said.
While lead poisoning is considered the leading cause of death for adult loons in Maine, there are other human-related threats that can be reduced.
“We are also seeing a rise in the occurrence of boat strikes,” D’Auria said. “Loons may become accustomed to boats and don’t always swim away when approached, thus it is important to keep a ‘no wake distance’ of 150 feet from loons.”
Watch: A look inside the bird rehab center Avian Haven in Freedom