- Associated Press - Monday, June 16, 2014

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - Researchers are trying to determine why the loon population in Wyoming is dwindling and what can be done to stop it.

Loons are the rarest nesting birds in Wyoming, and only 14 pairs remain in the state’s northwest corner, The Casper Star-Tribune reported Monday (http://tinyurl.com/pb5b8ac ).

The next closest population is 220 miles away in Montana, and a few others live in Idaho and Washington.

The Biodiversity Research Institute of Maine and state and federal agencies are participating in the five-year study, which is entering its second year and includes loons in Minnesota and Massachusetts.

“We’re trying to stabilize the population and identify threats,” said David Evers, executive director of the Biodiversity Research Institute.

“Loons are very poor colonizers. If you lose your population, even though it’s good habitat, it could be a long, long time before you see more loons breeding here,” he said.

Threats to loons include habitat destruction, human disturbance, acid rain, climate change and lead ingestion, he said.

Loons require a lake of at least 20 acres to successfully nest, but they can coexist with humans, Evers said.

“Some of the threats we know from human disturbance are people coming into loon territory and just not knowing how to behave or not knowing loons are there,” Evers said.

Loons survive on fish and build nests on islands or shorelines. One pair of birds produces on average one chick every other year, though that varies greatly, Evers said.

Loons cannot walk on land, only scoot on their bellies.

Some wildlife agencies might look into building floating islands or rafts with camouflaged roofs for the loons to nest. That would be a benefit on lakes whose levels change seasonally.

“If the lake starts dropping and dropping, they have to scoot on their bellies back to their nest, and the nest is much more exposed to predators,” said Susan Patla, a Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist. “These roofed rafts seem to have worked very well, which have been successful over time back East.”

Wyoming Game and Fish, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the National Forest Service are participating in the $6.5 million study, funded by the Ricketts Conservation Fund.

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