Volunteers can help protect the future of Minnesota’s loon population

A statewide study is being conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to help ensure the continued health of Minnesota’s state bird, the common loon. Boaters, anglers and lakeshore owners are being asked to pick up dead loons for testing to help biologists discover the major causes of death.

Minnesota’s loon population is about 12,000 birds, and the numbers appear stable, according to Pam Perry, DNR nongame wildlife specialist and the loon watcher coordinator.

“Past studies on the common loon were limited to looking for mercury contamination,” said Perry. “This effort will help answer questions about why loons die. Is it trauma, mercury, lead, disease or effects from the Gulf oil spill?”

If some of these causes are preventable, the DNR can develop strategies to reduce loon mortality.

The DNR is asking for help in collecting recently dead loons without signs of decomposition. Obviously, rotten loons should not be collected.

To collect a specimen for testing, people should use disposable gloves to put the dead loon in a plastic bag. Try to avoid barehanded contact when handling dead animals. If gloves are not available, turn a plastic shopping bag inside out and scoop up the specimen with the bag. Place the specimen in a freezer as soon as possible. If a freezer is not available, place the specimen in a cooler, surrounded by ice.

It is important to deliver the specimen as soon as possible to a local DNR office, because it is otherwise unlawful to possess loons. All loons need to be labeled with the date, name of the county, lake and nearest town where it was found, along with name, address and telephone number of the person who found the loons.

More information about general guidelines for safe handling of wild birds is available at www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/waterfowl/avian_flu.html.

For more information or to locate the DNR office, call the DNR Information Center at 651-296-6157 or toll-free at 888-646-6367.