- Associated Press - Sunday, January 31, 2016

SUNAPEE, N.H. (AP) - Five loons have been rescued from small patches of water on New Hampshire’s Lake Sunapee, after molting left them unable to fly.

The Valley News reports (bit.ly/1WUQ4E4) that the birds, which are on the state’s threatened species list, were rescued Tuesday.

Three of the birds have since been banded and released. A fourth will be released after treatment of a minor problem with its beak, according to John Cooley, senior biologist with the Moultonborough-based Loon Preservation Committee. A fifth bird had high levels of lead in its bloodstream and an x-ray showed a large lead sinker in its gastrointestinal tract. The bird is undergoing therapy to absorb the lead, but has been given only a slim chance of survival.

Lead poisoning is the leading cause of loon mortality in New Hampshire.

In past winters, Cooley said, the committee would usually see one or two loons stranded on the ice, but they usually had a problem that hampered their survival rate. But he said Tuesday’s rescue was different.

“These loons were molting,” he said. “The ones that were released already hopefully have a good chance of survival, if their main problem was just that they were flightless.”

Loons also need nearly a quarter-mile of open water to take flight, so ice closing in on them also can threaten their survival.

As the climate warms, stranding may become more common, Cooley said.

He said the Loon Preservation Committee relies heavily on volunteers to spot distressed loons. Members of the Lake Sunapee Protective Association assisted in Tuesday’s rescue.

The stranded birds were first spotted by ice skaters.

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