With our lake fully frozen, the loons that summer with us have long since left for open water so we rarely post loon stories in the winter. We miss watching the loons and talking about them. As it turns out, though, not all loons do leave our area for the winter. While most common loons move out to the ocean for the winter. some loons over-winter on lakes in our area that don’t completely freeze over. During milder winters, Lake Champlain may not completely freeze so some loons might save themselves a longer trip and stay there for the winter. Unfortunately, if there is a sudden and prolonged drop in temperature, loons can get trapped in the ice.
You may ask why they don’t just fly off – they are birds after all. The answer is that they may not be able too. According to the Vermont Loon Conservation Project (https://vtecostudies.org/wildlife/birds/water-birds/common-loon/) “Adults have a complete molt in late winter, replacing their flight feathers, which means they have a flightless period before the spring migration.” If they become trapped by a late freeze, they are essentially helpless to extricate themselves.
Another reason they may not be able to escape the ice is their need for enough open water to take off. Like an airplane, loons need a long runway on the water. You have probably seen them seem to “run” on the water before takeoff. If the ice shortens the runway of open water too much, they maty not be able to get airborne, even if they have not yet molted.
Recently, five loons had to be rescued from the small area of still open water on Lake Champlain and another group of ten loons were rescued on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. Happily, all the loons are doing fine. You can read the stories of their rescues here:
“Long Skate on Lake Champlain Turns into Loon Rescue”: https://www.charlottenewsvt.org/2022/03/10/long-skate-on-lake-champlain-turns-into-loon-rescue/
“LPC at Work – Loon Rescue on Lake Winnipesaukee”: https://myemail.constantcontact.com/Loon-Preservation-Committee-Month-at-a-Glance.html?soid=1103470649743&aid=aQzSSxbDr_Y