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A Loony Tunes Summer – A Paddlers Guide to Loons

Michael Kulig –

Time to break out the binoculars!!

Amidst the everlasting and pure beauty of New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, paddlers on the lake have often been treated to the sights of the majestic New England Loon, widely referred to as the “Common Loon”. These birds in their natural habitat are the living embodiment of the state’s beautiful wild-life and a major testament to the continuous preservation of the area. While they may seem plain and ordinary birds on the surface to some, loons can display some of the most unique features of any bird in the region, and there are many different ways for paddlers who wish to witness them to observe the sheer beauty of the loon, but in a safe manner that helps protect the loons and their habitat.

         When on the lake and trying to catch a peak of a loon, it’s very important to acknowledge, observe and understand certain loon behaviors, which can be negatively impacted by human activities on the water. Not enough space given to the loons can affect the normal behaviors they conduct in order for them to stay healthy and away from harm. With behaviors, loons change their posture in the head and neck region in situations of concern if paddlers get too close. Here are a few important loon behaviors that people should take note of if there is an up-close encounter between you and a loon:

Moving away: In any situation, the first thing a loon will do in the presence of a paddler or a boat is to instinctively swim away. This indicates the loon is stressed, so it is best to let the loon move away from you. 

Vocalizations: Everyone has heard the famous loon calls, whether out on the lake or from a distance. It is a breathtaking and harmonizing sound that echoes across the lake so beautifully, but in reality, some vocalizations from a loon in close range with a paddler is another indication of stress from the loon, and it is best to either back off from the loon or let it swim away.

Extended Neck: When a loon extends its neck and head night in the air, that means the loon is aware and/or concerned of a possible threat, and uses their neck for leverage and to get better vision of the surrounding area.

Raised Brow: If a loon ever raises the feathers on its forehead, it’ll indicate the loon is nervous and will make a face that shows that feeling visually.

Hangover Position: Whenever a loon is nesting to protect their eggs and feels threatened, it will get into a hangover position that flattens the body and angles the head straight towards the water. They do this for two reasons. The first reason is to make them blend into the environment, which is basically hiding. The second reason is that the position gives the loon the ability to kick its feet and dive right back into the water where they operate best.

Penguin Dance: In any event where a loon is approached real close to a paddler, they will most likely do a penguin dance that allows them to rear their bodies up in the water all while the wings are collapsed in or spread out with their feet paddling in the water to keep upright. This is a distraction tactic and by far their most frantic behavior. 

While the importance of understanding loon behaviors remains high, paddlers should know just as much as to what their own responsibilities are out on the water when encountering or interacting with loons. The NH Loon Preservation Committee recommends boats and paddlers keep at least 150 feet away from loons and loon nests; a pair of binoculars should do well enough to see a loon from that distance. For those who fish, using lead tackle can be deadly for loons who ingest it from a fishing line or from a fish attached to the line. It is actually prohibited by NH state law to purchase lead sinkers and jigs that weigh one ounce or less. To keep loons safe and protect them from the lead, use non-lead tackle when fishing.

New Hampshire’s Lakes Region is a haven for both paddlers and the majestic loons that call it home. Encountering these incredible birds while exploring the region’s pristine waters is a truly remarkable experience. By understanding and respecting their habits, we can ensure the preservation of loon populations for future generations.

For more information on loons and how to help them, visit the NH Loon Preservation Committee’s website: https://loon.org/