Loons are appearing on northwestern Montana lakes and preparing to nest.
Loons are among the state's "commuter" species. They winter along the Pacific coastline and return here in late April. One female banded in 1997 migrated almost 1,000 miles from the coast of central California to Montana in less than five days. This 15-year old loon made it safely back to Montana again this spring.
While there are thousands of loons, only 65 pairs nest each year in Montana and usually only about 30 of these pairs successfully hatch chicks.
Montana's loon rangers will be out in force beginning in May. The rangers provide information to residents and visitors living and recreating on popular loon nesting lakes, post signs near new nesting areas, and answer questions about how to avoid disturbing loons. Three university students will monitor 25-30 northwestern Montana lakes this summer between Missoula and Eureka.
Nesting usually begins early to mid-May. Both sexes build the nest and take turns incubating one to two eggs for the month it takes them to hatch. Loons hatched on Montana’s lakeshores spend the first three years of life on the West Coast or on large inland lakes. Only one in four loons survive to retun to their natal lake to nest.
About 100 loons have been banded by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks as part of a six-year loon research project. Also, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe wildlife biologists implanted satellite transmitters in four loons captured on Flathead Lake last fall. They are monitoring the movements of these birds to learn more about where the loons travel and the challenges they face along the way.
State Wildlife Grants fund these projects and they also receive the support of individuals, public, private, and tribal organizations and and other agencies.
State Wildlife Grant (SWG) funds are federal money earmarked to enable states to broaden their conservation efforts to include more fish and wildlife species for which biological information is lacking, whose populations are in decline, or that are at risk of declining.
For more information, or to become actively involved in a loon project, contact the Montana Loon Society, 6525 Rocky Point Road, Polson, MT 59850-6949, or to follow the movements of loons returning to Montana, go to http://www.seaturtle.org/tracking and click on Migrating Common Loons.