Simply Science: Loons

5:25 PM, Aug 19, 2010   |    comments
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The state bird we all know and love could be headed for trouble this winter because of the gulf oil spill.

"One of their primary wintering areas is off of Alabama and the Florida panhandle," explained Carrol Henderson, Supervisor for the DNR's non-game Wildlife Program.

If oil gets on their feathers that's trouble. The oil also affects their winter food supply in the gulf.

"At this point we don't know if it's going to be a significant problem or not," said Henderson.

A few loons in Minnesota and Wisconsin may help us answer that.

"The U.S. Geological survey office out of La Crosse got funding to put satellite transmitters on loons to see if botulism is a problem," said Henderson.

Originally set up to study botulism in loons the project could also help us find out if the oil spill will affect the loons.

"The loons are trapped in late summer. They can be caught with a big fish landing net," said Henderson.

The process is done at night because the loons cannot see very well and are not as alarmed.

"The darkness especially on a night with a new moon is very important to allow the researchers to glide up onto the loons without scaring them. Once the loon is caught it's put in a little box and taken a shore. The geological survey has a trailer like a mobile hospital, surgical unit, 28 foot long trailer. There's a small incision made in the abdomen. The loon is implanted with a little transmitter about the size of a D battery, little smaller than that. This process starts about 10:30 at night and the loons will be released by about 2, 3 or 4 in the morning," said Henderson.
 

The information they gather from these loons could be very valuable not just to loons but all of us.

"Everything is connected to everything else. And that we all need to care about the environment whether it's Minnesota or the gulf of Mexico, central America, the rainforests," said Henderson.
 

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