We’re following an uptick in loon mortality right now, where dozens of common loons have been found on beaches from North Carolina to Cape Cod. Several birds have been shipped to the National Wildlife Health Center for autopsies, and we are trying to track the mortality both via formal SEANET surveys and by encouraging people to report dead loons to the Wildlife Health Event Reporter.
We also have a request to make of you, Seanetters and casual beachgoers alike. Dr. Mark Pokras at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine has been studying loon mortality for many years. The core of his research is autopsy data on loons. Since he has a particular focus on the detrimental impact of lead and other fishing gear on loons, he does not necessarily require fresh specimens. Even a mostly decomposed, partially skeletal specimen may still retain a lead sinker, or bit of shot, or a fish hook in its body, and this data is invaluable. Mark also emphasizes the recovery of banded birds. These birds generally have a known, at least approximate age, and some data on where they may have hatched or nested in the past.
So, the plea to you all is to consider collecting the bodies of dead loons for Mark’s work, especially those banded birds. For those of you affiliated with a nature center or other environmental group such as Mass Audubon or the Lloyd Center up here in New England, this may mean simply transporting the bird to their freezers. If this is not an option for you, you can also get in touch with Mark directly and ask him if he’d like you to collect the bird and how to go about getting the bird transported.
If you find a banded bird of ANY sort, the first and best thing to do is to report it to www.reportband.gov. A whole lot of banded birds are never found after they die, and knowing the time and place of death is a great boon to the data.