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Shoreline development and recreational use of northern lakes has been suggested as a possible cause for declines in North American breeding populations of the common loon (Gavia immer). Previous studies of human and loon interactions have not produced consistent results regarding the impact of human activities on loon productivity. A pilot study was conducted to assess the feasibility and study design for an intensive 2002 disturbance study on the Whitefish Chain of Lakes, a heavily-recreated group of lakes in north central Minnesota. Loon territory occupancy and productivity were comparable to levels found in a 1985 study on the same waterbody. Nesting loons appeared to have a high tolerance for recreational activity, but were also observed to flush nests in response to being disturbed. Furthermore, only 29% of nests were located on islands, an indication that loons may be modifying habitat preferences in response to recreational pressure. Vegetative cover (e.g., cattails) at nest sites and artificial nesting platforms may help to mitigate potential impairment to loon productivity caused by recreational activities. A framework for future study on the Whitefish Chain of Lakes compares observed human-use patterns with nesting loon response and productivity.

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