Bird Watchers Fear Oil Spill Impact On Minn. Loons

COLD SPRING, Minn. (AP) — Wildlife experts and enthusiasts say there are encouraging early signs that Minnesota’s loons and other migratory birds fared well while wintering in the Gulf of Mexico following last summer’s massive oil spill, although they say it’s too early to be sure.

Bird-watchers, including Jim Sand, have been worried about the impact of the BP oil spill on the loons and other waterfowl that grace Minnesota lakes from spring through fall but spend their winters on the Gulf Coast. Like he does every spring, Sand put nests out for loons on Big Fish Lake north of Cold Spring in central Minnesota. But he held his breath this year to see if loons would occupy them.

Now that loons, white pelicans and some duck species are returning from the Gulf to Minnesota, Pam Perry, a wildlife specialist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said early reports give her reason for optimism. She told the St. Cloud Times for a story published Tuesday that while it’s all anecdotal, she’s hearing reports from people that loons on their lakes are coming back.

Baker said the state would know much more about the loon population after July, when the DNR, aided by volunteers, conducts its annual survey of Minnesota’s state bird.

The Minnesota Loon Monitoring Program tracks loons at 600 lakes throughout the state chosen for a range of characteristics believed to indicate environmental health: proximity of roads and residents, ratio of public to private land, susceptibility to acid rain and human population growth.

Baker said the loon population, as measured by the survey, has remained fairly stable since 1994, when data were first collected. If the survey shows a sharp drop this year, Baker said, that could be a warning of trouble.

DNR officials are asking people who spot dead loons to contact the agency, which may examine the birds to determine how they died.

As part of her job, Perry corresponds with a network of volunteer bird watchers throughout the state, including Sand. He and fellow members of the Big Fish Lake Association put out nests and protective buoys for the loons that call their lake home during the warm-weather months.

Association members breathed a big sigh of relief last month, Sand said. That was when five adult loons — the same number that nested on the lake last year — returned.

“We didn’t know if we’d get them back or not,” Sand said.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • Kay

    The loons are back on all the lakes around Pine River so I don’t think there is any worry.

    • WTH??

      Really? How do you figure that there isn’t anything to worry about? Migration north is what birds do, how do you assume they are the same ones from last year?Obviously you are an employee of BP…..? Are they paying you to say so? lol, but not funny…I don’t know how anyone could say this, especially since the DNR hasn’t even made the calculations of approximation on how it has effected Minnesota. Put your head back in the sand…

      • Sally

        Yes, yes you keep worrying and waiting for your government study to tell you if everything is a disaster. The rest of nature will move on, the loons will be fine

        • Jeri Matten

          Global warming is a theory,and there are, yes, I agree -many points that lead us to believe that this theory is true. But in contrast the oil spill in the Gulf we KNOW is in the process of devastating an entire ecosystem that SUPPORTS our wildlife,- which essentially means- it will take time to make an impact, you watch. And there is nothing we can do. We don’t know the consequences as of yet…sure blame it on who you want, but this has never happened in the recorded history of the world. Just because you see “LOONS COMING BACK TO YOUR LAKE” is just another way to say ” now it “seems ok?”- Read Revelations in the BIble, you will find that this will only get worse, I don’t NEED the DNR to confirm it.

    • Sally

      Don’t let facts get in the way of a good “the sky is falling” story from the environmental wackos. They told us the gulf would NEVER recover from that oil spill and that is the story to stick to.

      If you see fewer loons its the oil spills fault if you see the same amount of birds as normal, its due to global warming, got it?

  • MAJ

    These returning loons are the adults loons. The one year old birds stay in coastal waters and remain there until they are 2-3 years old. The majority of birds that return to breed are 3 – 5 years of age. It will take 2 – 3 years before we see what damage the oil has done to the young group of loons that are still in the Gulf region.
    Some of this info was taken from “Fascinating Loons” written by Minnesota Author Stan Tekiela.

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