Minnesota has the highest loon population in the continental US with over 10,000 adult loons. Many Midwestern loons reside in the Great Lakes during spring and summer months before they begin their annual migration to warmer areas such as the Pacific, Atlantic, or Gulf Coasts. Loons feed mainly on fish and other aquatic life.
Since the 1960's scientists have recorded cases of botulism in loons, but the numbers greatly increased starting in 1999. The Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center, a branch of the USGS, has equipped ten loons with satellite transmitters in hopes of tracking migration and ultimately discovering physical and biological links to the botulism outbreaks. The loons were tagged in July and their migration can be followed on this website. These transmitters allow researchers to track temperature and pressure, as well as location, which they hope will reveal foraging information. Other loons were also tagged with geolocators which will record information that researchers will collect when they remove the tags during the following season.
You can hear the call of a common loon here. For further reading, click here to access our recommended reading list on Great Lakes Birds.
Photo of Biologists Luke Fara and Kevin Kenow recording the measures of a common loon courtesy of Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center.