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Historic loon hatchling celebrated — believed to be first in Southeastern Mass. in over a century

Posted 7/10/20

Wildlife experts are celebrating the birth this spring of a common loon chick in Fall River. The youngster is believed to be the first loon hatched in southeastern Massachusetts in over a …

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Historic loon hatchling celebrated — believed to be first in Southeastern Mass. in over a century

Posted

Wildlife experts are celebrating the birth this spring of a common loon chick in Fall River. The youngster is believed to be the first loon hatched in southeastern Massachusetts in over a century.

The event was confirmed last week by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) and the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI). 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,” the groups said in a press release. For the sake of protecting the birds, the groups declined to identify the specific location where the chick and parents were discovered.

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 vanished as a breeding bird in Massachusetts in the late 1800s, MassWildlife said. 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 New York, 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, nine 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." Mr. Vitz said that 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."

 

Westport barge mishap provides funding

In related news: BRI will receive $2.5 million in settlement funds over the next six years through MassWildlife  to expand loon restoration efforts. The funding is part of an $8.3 million settlement and agreement to address impacts on common loons and other shorebirds from the Bouchard Barge 120 oil spill that occurred in Buzzards Bay off Westport 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.

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