With its haunting call, its distinctive black and white plumage, and its intense, almost otherworldly red eyes, the Common Loon is an icon of northern Minnesota wilderness. But some researchers believe future generations of the beloved bird in this region may be in jeopardy. A recent study in Wisconsin showed some worrying trends. Chicks are getting smaller, their survival rates are lower, and loons that migrate as juveniles are returning to their birthplace at low rates. Scientists in Canada have simultaneously noticed some of the same trends across the country. Now, there’s a concentrated research effort by the National Loon Center in Minnesota to find out whether the same declines are present there.
While scientists are at the helm of this work, ordinary people with a love for the loons provide passion–and power. People like Captain Starr Bockenthien, who takes groups of visitors out on the water in Crosslake, Minnesota, to catch a glimpse of the enigmatic bird. For her, the loons have provided calm and happiness. And her enthusiasm is infectious. “It is refreshing every day,” she said. “Every day is a new day with the loons. ”Bockenthien hopes if people catch her passion for the loons, they’ll also be motivated to protect them. In this episode of the MinneCulture podcast, Emily Haavik talks to scientists and bird-lovers about their efforts to protect the common loon.
Photo credit: Pam Hickman. Hickman volunteers for Birds Canada, observing the loons on Elbow Lake, attached to Sharbot Lake, about 120 kilometers southwest of Ottawa.