Nongame Wildlife Program

Nongame wildlife specialists


Minnesota Loon Monitoring Program

two loons in the water with reflections

Love loons? Minnesota loon monitoring program (MLMP) is a great way to get involved with wildlife, particularly loons, on your lake or a nearby lake. 

Why loons? Loons are good indicators of water quality because they need clean, clear water to observe and catch food; sensitive to disturbance and lakeshore development; indicators of the effects of contaminants like mercury and lead in the environment or the impacts of events like the BP oil spill; and enjoyable for Minnesotans to watch!

Thanks to the efforts of hundreds of volunteers, we have over 20 years of data on more than 600 lakes distributed among six regions, or "index areas" of the state.  This long-term data set gives us the ability to detect significant changes in the adult population and reproductive success of the state's common loons, and to anticipate any problems that could jeopardize the future of our state bird.

Become a volunteer today and help us monitor our state bird!

Minnesota Loon Monitoring Program brochure PDF


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About the survey, including map of areas surveyed

Minnesota Loon Monitoring MapThe Minnesota Loon Monitoring Program is a long-term project of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' Nongame Wildlife Program. With the generous assistance of hundreds of volunteers, information about common loon numbers is collected annually on more than 600 lakes distributed among six regions, or "index areas" of the state. These areas were selected because they are typical of larger portions of the state in ways that matter to loons: varying human population growth, acid rain sensitivity, public or private land ownership, and/or road density.

Volunteers visit each lake for one morning during a 10-day period in summer, count the number of adult and juvenile loons seen, and report these observations for data management and analysis.

Frequently Asked Questions

When do I survey?

  • The monitoring period generally runs for 10 days from the last week of June through the first week of July.
  • Surveys are done one morning between 5 a.m. and noon during the monitoring period.
  • Pick nice weather days with little wind.

What equipment do I need to survey?

  • Binoculars and/or spotting scope.
  • Bird identification guide book.
  • Surveys can be conducted from shore by boat or canoe.

How long does it take?

  • Survey time depends on lake size:
    • Small (<150 acres) 30—60 min
    • Medium (150-400 ac) 30 min to 2 hrs
    • Large (>400 ac) 2 to 4 hrs

What can I expect to see?

  • Larger lakes are more likely to have loons.
  • Most breeding pairs will have 0—2 young.

Can I survey any lake?

  • This survey design has 100 lakes already chosen in each index area that need to be adopted by volunteers.

What else will be required?

  • You will be asked to fill in and sign a volunteer agreement form and read, sign, and return brief materials about watercraft safety. These materials will be provided when you become a volunteer.

What if I find a dead loon or an abandoned loon egg?

  • We are collecting dead loons that have not started to decay and eggs that have been abandoned by adults for testing. Do not take eggs that might still be attended by loons. If you have a dead bird or egg, carefully collect them (use gloves and wash after handling) and place in a plastic bag, then in a freezer. Immediately contact a Nongame Wildlife Specialist or the nearest DNR office.

Data form and lake maps will be provided once you sign up as a volunteer.

Detailed instructions found under "Resources for Current Volunteers."

Select a Lake That Needs a Volunteer

Click on a PDF below to see which lakes need volunteers. The same lakes are surveyed every year. Is your lake not on our maps? Consider reporting loons to the LoonWatcher Survey. Click here for more information about that survey.

If a PDF is not available, it may be too early to select a lake. Please try again later or contact an Index Area Coordinator.

If you need an accommodation for a PDF map, please contact an Index Area Coordinator.

Contact an Index Area Coordinator

Have questions, want to know more, or want to adopt a lake to survey? Please call or email the one of following DNR staff in the county/index area of interest:

Resources for Current Volunteers

Survey Instructions PDF include detailed instructions on how to conduct the survey including what to do before the day of survey, how to select a day to survey, tips for conducting the survey and how to identify similar-looking birds. These instructions should be read every year before you survey.

Volunteer Time Report PDF is a form to be completed to help us receive a match of federal funds to support Nongame Wildlife Program activities.

Official Survey Volunteer Placard PDF Want to be seen by oncoming drivers? Print this placard on brightly colored paper and display in the window of your vehicle. Print either two half sheets or one whole sheet, as desired.

Have you seen these birds? PDF Help us document nests of bald eagles, colonial waterbirds such as herons and other waterbirds such as grebes and terns. If you see the birds that are listed on this form at your survey lake, please fill out one of these forms and submit the information with your loon data.

Tips for Monitoring Loons and Other Ways to Help Loons


  • Watch loons from at least 200 feet away.
  • If you find a loon, watch for a few minutes to see if another adult or young are nearby.
  • Use their calls to find them, but only count the loons you see.
  • Adults have a black and white pattern, young have gray to brown plumage.
  • Have fun!

Other ways to help loons

  • Healthy lakes, shorelines and watersheds benefit many species, including loons. Learn more about healthy shorelines.
  • Give loons space during nesting and chick rearing—loon chicks cannot dive when very young to get out of the way of boats; they also tire easily. Learn more about Common Loons.
  • Use non-lead fishing tackle and responsibly dispose of fishing line and tackle. Learn more about lead poisoning and loons.
  • Report harassment of loons to your local conservation officer (be sure to get boat identification information too!). Find a conservation officer near you.
  • Apply only phosphorus-free fertilizer if you live on a lake; excess phosphorus can lead to increased algae and plant growth. 15 Ways to Reduce Nutrients in Lakes and Streams This link leads to an external site.