Nature Notes

Common Loon

By Genevieve Nuttall, Bird Conservation Programs Associate, Audubon Connecticut

November 26, 2018 —If you are like me, compensation for enduring the arrival of cold weather in late fall comes in the form of wintering waterbirds. Although the brisk wind blows strongly at Audubon Connecticut’s office at Stratford Point, it becomes bearable when you have the reward of seeing winter’s gift of Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Goldeneye, Long-tailed Ducks, and Common Loons. I am especially enthralled by the Common Loon, a species that is most striking in summer but retains a majestic quality when it comes to Connecticut in winter.

This large waterbird spends most of its life in water. You can find solitary adults gracefully gliding in Long Island Sound, dipping down occasionally to feed. The Common Loon relies mostly on fish in its diet, and they are incredibly efficient at capturing fish underwater. In fact, its legs are so well-adapted for swimming that a Common Loon has trouble walking on land.

The Common Loon is a bird that I have come to appreciate. Its presence along the coast of Connecticut makes the long, cold months seem a little shorter and a little warmer. I cannot imagine a winter in which this species did not return to Connecticut. Yet, this scenario is possible if we do not act to maintain stable populations of the fish that the Common Loon relies on for survival. As a fish-eating waterbird, the availability of a variety of fish species in its breeding and wintering range is vital to the persistence of the Common Loon.

Fish stocks in coastal waters throughout the United States are at risk. While the fishing industry is an important part of human welfare and the local economy in many regions of the country, overfishing of certain stocks has led to the decline of some fish species. This decline, in turn, has a negative effect on birds that forage on fish. To improve fishing regulations, the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) was enacted in 1976. The MSA focuses on prevention of overfishing, and over 40 species have recovered from overfishing since the enactment of the MSA. When fish populations are effectively managed, they are stable enough to provide sustainable harvests for fishing industries as well as other ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling and reef cleaning.

The MSA is reauthorized about every ten years, and the opportunity for the next reauthorization is coming up soon. To ensure that the MSA remains successful in an ever-changing environment, we need your help to promote beneficial changes in the next reauthorization. The current administration is trying to minimize the regulations of the MSA to allow for more fishing, a change that would be detrimental to fish stocks and the ecosystems that fish are a part of. We can take action to keep strong regulations in the MSA and also add amendments that will further strengthen the Act.

In the summer of 2018, a proposed reauthorization of the MSA, which disregarded science-based management provisions that have kept fish populations stable, passed in the House of Representatives. This bill, fortunately, did not pass through the Senate, partly due to the public’s action of contacting state legislators to explain the harmfulness of the proposal. The opportunity to reauthorize the MSA will come up again and we need your help to safeguard the Act as a conservation win for fish, birds, other wildlife, and the overall health of the oceanic environment. By sustaining fish populations, we can also sustain the livelihood of people who rely on fish in their diet and fishing as a profession. Please help us promote the following actions in the next MSA reauthorization:

  • Maintain regulations that prevent overfishing,
  • Provide additional research and improve data collection on focal fish populations,
  • Account for range shifts due to climate change and implement climate-smart management,
  • Preserve additional marine habitat,
  • Protect forage fish species, and
  • Reduce bycatch (marine life that is unintentionally caught along with the target fish species)

As the MSA reauthorization moves forward, please take action by calling your legislators to support the above actions or to discourage changes that would result in more overfishing. Your voice makes a huge difference when it comes to the passage of these bills. As an Audubon member, you are passionate about birds and wildlife. Legislators need to hear from people who are passionate and care about the fate of Long Island Sound’s fish stock and fish-eating birds. Imagine a winter without the Common Loon because the fish species that the loon feeds on have declined due to overfishing. I will take every action to prevent this from happening, and I hope that you will too.

How you can help, right now