CONCORD, New Hampshire — The annual count of loons on New Hampshire's lakes revealed a slight increase over last year, but experts caution the census only provides a glimpse into the true population.
Harry Vogel, executive director of the Loon Preservation Committee in Moultonborough, said 622 observers counted 549 adult loons during a one-hour period on July 19. That's up from 520 adults observed last year, but Vogel notes there were 26 fewer observers last year, so it's too early to say there are more loons.
A more complete picture will emerge in a couple of weeks when full-year monitoring results are released.
Observers saw 91 chicks and 12 immature loons, compared with 69 chicks and six immature birds in 2013. The immature loons are important since their return from the ocean where they spend their early years means they're ready to breed, Vogel said.
Once the birds do breed, Vogel said, the average success is just one live chick for every two pairs of birds.
"The critical piece in keeping a viable and growing loon population in New Hampshire is to keep adult loons alive so they have many opportunities to reproduce," he said.
Loons, which are threatened in New Hampshire and protected federally, were hard hit by contaminants and human interaction in the 1970s. While they have slowly rebounded over the past four decades, the black-and-white birds with the haunting call are still not as plentiful as they once were in New Hampshire. One of the biggest culprits is lead fishing tackle, which accounts for almost half of adult loon deaths every year.
Vogel said the preservation committee recently confirmed a fourth loon death linked to lead tackle. A new state law that takes effect in 2016 bans lead sinkers smaller than 1 ounce; the birds are able to ingest the smaller jigs, which can kill them in two to four weeks.
The preservation committee, with a small staff and some 800 volunteers, manages the populations by floating rafts to serve as nesting sites and posting signs and ropes near established nests.