- Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
- MassWildlife's Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program
Media Contact for Historic loon hatch marks a milestone
Marion Larson, MassWildlife
In early July, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) and the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) confirmed that a common loon chick hatched in Fall River this spring. Until this year, loons had not hatched in southeastern Massachusetts in over a century! BRI, a non-profit ecological research group based in Maine, has been partnering with MassWildlife to restore common loons to Massachusetts. This historic hatchling is an exciting result of a multi-year loon restoration initiative.
In 2015, in partnership with MassWildlife, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, Maine Audubon, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Ricketts Foundation, BRI relocated loon chicks from Maine and New York (where loons have a robust population) to the Assawompset Pond Complex in Lakeville, Massachusetts. Historically, loons nested in this area before the species was extirpated as a breeding bird in Massachusetts in the late 1800s. The hope was that translocated loon chicks successfully fledging in southeastern Massachusetts would return to that region to breed as adults in 4–6 years, thereby establishing a new breeding population in the state. The male in the Fall River nesting pair, one of the chicks originally translocated from NY, did just that.
“It was a milestone when this particular loon returned to its release lake in 2018, three years after fledging,” says David C. Evers, Ph.D., BRI’s executive director and a leading expert on loon ecology and conservation. “Now in 2020, we are thrilled to report that this male found a mate and their resulting nesting activity produced a chick; visible evidence that breeding loon populations can be restored to their former habitat.”
Common loons (Gavia immer) are currently listed as a species of special concern under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. Once loons fledge from freshwater lakes, they migrate to wintering grounds on the ocean. As young adults, they return to the area where they hatched to join the breeding population. The loons that were translocated from Maine and New York as chicks are now beginning to return to their release sites in Massachusetts as breeding adults.
"We are excited with the news about the chick. It's fitting that this historic event occurred in 2020, which marks the 30th anniversary of the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act," said Andrew Vitz, MassWildlife's State Ornithologist. "Over the last few summers, 9 of the 24 translocated chicks have been observed in the release area and are forming pair bonds and territories. We believe that a continuation of the translocation project is the best way to increase nesting loon pairs in the state." Vitz noted there are approximately 45 pairs of territorial loons currently in Massachusetts. "Increasing pair numbers and expanding their distribution is critical to obtaining a sustainable and robust population in Massachusetts. I look forward to working with BRI for this next phase of loon restoration."
In related news: BRI will receive $2.5M in settlement funds over the next 6 years through MassWildlife to expand loon restoration efforts. The funding is part of an $8.3M settlement and agreement to address impacts on common loons and other shorebirds from the Bouchard Barge 120 oil spill that occurred in Buzzards Bay in 2003. The goal is to restore common loons to their former breeding range in Massachusetts and to bolster existing breeding populations in other parts of the state. In Massachusetts, common loons disappeared as a nesting bird for decades until 1975. They have since primarily returned to breed in the Quabbin and Wachusett Reservoirs and a few other north central Massachusetts waters. The current restoration plan includes the release of 45–60 common loon chicks from Maine and New York to historic breeding sites in southeastern Massachusetts and the Berkshires.
For more on endangered species conservation in Massachusetts, click here to learn about MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program.
Image: Translocated male loon with his mate and their chick in Fall River, Massachusetts. Photo by Ericka Griggs/BRI