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Leave the loons alone, it's nesting season

 A Common Loon hunkered down on a nest built on a platform.

PC: Damon McCormick,
A common loon hunkered down on a nest built on a platform. (Photo: Damon McCormick/Common Coast Research & Conservation)

People are returning to northern Michigan waterways for fun and relaxation. So are common loons, but for nesting.

Conservationists are asking folks on the water to give the loons some space during a crucial time for breeding.

Loons have a black head, a bluish sheen and a white belly, along with speckles, stripes and scale-like patterns on their back.

And, of course, they have a remarkable wail.

They’re also on the state’s list of threatened species, with about 700-900 pairs mostly found in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

Loons, like other fish eating birds, are susceptible to Type E Botulismin the Great Lakes, said Damon McCormick with Common Coast Research & Conservation, a nonprofit that works with Great Lakes migratory birds.

"That has killed tens upon tens of thousands of fishing birds like loons ... and other species that consume mussels like long-tailed duck. But loons have been hardest hit," McCormick said. "And a particularly bad area has been northern Lake Michigan."

Every spring, the loons return to the waterways, building nests on small natural islands or platforms deployed by lake associations and residents.

McCormick said if disturbed by boaters, fishermen or toddlers, loons will flush their nests into the water, which endangers the eggs.

“Everyone’s got a camera and everyone wants photos for instagram or what have you," he said. "These days you have well-intentioned folks in their kayaks and such who just want to get that shot who in doing so, maybe imperiling the nesting season because they’re getting too close.”

Deana Jerdee is executive director of Paddle Antrim, in Elk Rapids. The nonprofit connects with folks by using paddle sports to educate and inform stewardship of northern Michigan's waterways.

Jerdee said loons will let out a maniacal laugh and lower their heads if someone gets too close.

"Even if you feel like you are further away, if you hear they’re kind of a laughing call or hunkering down, just make sure you’re giving enough space and staying as far away as you can so we can enjoy them the rest of the summer,” she said.

People should keep plenty of distance from the birds, even after their young have hatched. Damon McCormick said you can get slightly closer to the birds from July to September.

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Tyler Thompson is a reporter at Interlochen Public Radio.