Ice-bound Loons


Common Loon in flight

Common Loon in flight. / © Jeff Nadler

The phone has been ringing more than usual this fall about loons becoming stuck in small open areas of water as the lakes freeze.   With the early cold weather, some loons just do not leave in time.   Usually these loons are chicks of the year (juveniles) who have to figure out migration on their own. The parents likely left in October or early November.

We are currently monitoring loons on Harvey’s Lake in Barnet, Maidstone Lake, and Sunset Lake in Benson.   Despite being a seasonal employee, I’m always on call for things like this although I will definitely enlist the help of VFWD game wardens and local fire departments looking to practice ice-rescues.  The key part is to be safe. Sometimes we can help and sometimes these loons just won’t make it.

Loon recovered from an icy pond with the cooperation between local fire department and VCE biologist Eric Hanson.

Loon recovered from an icy pond with the cooperation between local fire department and VCE biologist Eric Hanson.

If a loon becomes ice-bound

The first thing is to monitor the bird.  Eric Hanson of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE) often coordinates these efforts.  When ice forms around the loon and the area becomes too small for the loon to take flight, the bird will usually just stay put swimming about keeping the ice open.   Loons ideally need several 100 meters or more to take-off. Eventually the hole might only be a few feet across. Loons can go a week or more without much food, so we have time.   Eventually the hole will freeze over and the loon will sit on its belly on the ice.  If the ice is 3 inches thick, this is when we go after the loon with a big net and box ready for transport to Lake Champlain.  We’ll also wear life jackets and dry suits.  If the ice is not thick enough, we need to wait a bit longer. We’ll contact the local game warden so they know there is an ice bound loon being monitored.


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Comments (9)

    • Blaine Perkinz says:

      I have a loon on Pensioner pond. I thought it was late to still hear him

      • Eric Hanson says:

        Most adult loons leave by late October to early November. Our Vermont loons usually spend the winters along the New England coast. Chicks can stick around into November and December. We just hope they have that urge to fly before the ice forms. VLCP biologist, Eric Hanson

  1. Beth Taylor says:

    On Mascoma Lake, Enfield Nh we have two ice bound loons. The
    lake froze over last night, 12/10/16 and we noticed them in separate water opening (small) this morning. Very disturbing!!!!

    • Eric Hanson says:

      I’ll contact NH’s Loon Preservation Committee who deals with loon situations over there. With the birds in open water holes, they likely keep the holes open for awhile allowing the ice to thicken elsewhere. If the ice becomes thick enough, a rescue attempt could be considered eventually but for now monitoring is what needs to be done. Thanks. Eric Hanson VLCP Biologist

  2. Chris Smith says:

    We just had a loon stranded on our lake this morning in SW Michigan. Of course it was migrating north at this time of the year. Our lake had been thawed but refroze overnight. It was very hard to watch especially when a hawk tried to go after it. We managed to get a pathway open with our kayak & it finally flew to freedom.

  3. Caroline says:

    We have a loon stranded on Joe’s Pond in West Danville VT – so sad to see. The ice formed last night and the loon is stuck in a small patch of water. Is there anything we can do? I called and left a message with Eric Hanson a little bit ago.

  4. Pierre says:

    The lake at our cottage is frozen but we have an ice heater/bubbler around our boathouse to keep the water open/protect the boathouse. We just turned it on this morning. This aft we saw a loon crawling his way across our frozen bay to our open patch of water. He finally made it. The water won’t freeze but what should we do about him? He looks like a juvenile. Can he survive the winter there? Can he take off? Should we feed him fish? Thanks

    • Eric Hanson says:

      Hi there, In NY and VT, we’ve observed loons take-off from open water less than 30 feet long, so there is a chance it could depart. This is a tricky situation as the loon can hang out there fine for awhile, but feeding will be difficult. Where are you located? One thought would be to keep the bubbler going into this next cold spell and then turn it off. This would allow the ice around the hole to become thick enough (3-4″) for people to safely walk on but then the hole would eventually freeze forcing the loon onto the ice where it could be picked up using blankets, towels, etc., the loon could be put in a box, and then transported to water that won’t freeze for a long time or at all. Ideally a trained person would do this (me, Fish and Wildlife, wildlife rehabber). I’ll email you directly. eric hanson

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