PORTLAND (AP) – Around a thousand volunteers spent Saturday looking for loons on 300 lakes and ponds for the Maine Audubon Society’s annual loon count.

The bird with the handsome black and white plumage and haunting call symbolizes for many Mainers the spirit of the state’s lakes and ponds.

This is the twentieth year the Audubon Society has counted the birds in an effort to the keep tabs on the loon population.

The results are still being tabulated, an Audubon spokesman said Sunday.

Last year volunteers counted 1,704 adult loons and 187 loon chicks on 328 lakes in southern Maine. Using those numbers, biologists estimated a total loon population of about 2555 adults and 282 chicks.

Susan Gallo, the Maine Audubon Society’s Loon Project coordinator, said the loons are doing well.

“The numbers show the population of adults in southern Maine is slowly and steadily growing. It’s gone up and down, but if you look at the graph overall, it’s a stable population and is potentially increasing,” she said.

Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont have all seen their loon populations recover in the past 10 years. A few years ago, Massachusetts had no breeding pairs. It now has about a dozen, Gallo said.

The common loon, Gavia immer, is a diver, swimming underwater to depths of more than 90 feet to snap up fish with a dagger-like beak. The birds are highly territorial and prefer secluded lakes and marshes.

While not endangered, the loon is vulnerable to a whole array of threats: mercury in the fish they eat, ingestion of lead sinkers, speeding boats, and people who approach too closely to nests, scaring the birds off and causing the eggs to cool.

“They live 25 to 30 years. But they don’t breed until they are seven years old, on average,” Gallo said.

Even then a pair may hatch out only two chicks, and odds are good that either or both will die within the first few weeks.

“The number of chicks has not gone up (statewide), even though the population of adults has,” Gallo said. “We only average about 200 chicks” in the count region.

Efforts aimed at persuading power boaters not to chase loons and people not to approach their nests appear to be working.

AP-ES-07-20-03 1213EDT

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