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June 2021

Vol. 49, No. 3

Squam Lake and Its Loons: Holding a Mirror Up to New Hampshire’s Loon Population

Tiffany Grade and John Cooley, Jr.


Picture 1
. Loon Preservation Committee works under state and federal permits to collect loon eggs from failed nests for research purposes. A nest camera shows one of the authors collecting an unhatched loon egg from Squam Lake. Photo credit: Loon Preservation Committee.

When Shakespeare famously wrote of actors holding a mirror up to nature, he could not have imagined how well the analogy would fit the Common Loons (Gavia immer) of Squam Lake, New Hampshire. In this case, it is the loons of Squam that hold a mirror up to loons elsewhere in the state, both in their challenges and in their successes. The Squam Lake loons have been monitored and documented since 1975 by the Loon Preservation Committee (LPC), a nonprofit organization working to preserve and protect loons throughout New Hampshire. For more information about LPC, please visit www.loon.org.

The 6,800-acre Squam Lake has been a microcosm for the state for at least the last 45 years. After all, LPC was founded by Rawson Wood, a resident of Squam Lake who was concerned about the declining loon population on the lake. These declines were mirrored throughout the state, leading to LPC’s statewide efforts to protect this iconic bird. Shortly after LPC’s founding, the first documented case of lead poisoning killing a Common Loon came from Squam Lake (Locke et al. 1982; LPC unpublished data). Today, LPC continues to work to understand the challenges facing Squam’s loons.

Common Loons were listed as a state-threatened species in New Hampshire in 1979 after more than a century of population declines resulting from habitat loss, human disturbance of nest sites and breeding loons, and direct persecution. As LPC’s efforts began to pay off and Squam’s loons climbed out of the trough of those years, Squam’s loon population settled into the expected ups and downs that the vagaries of loon breeding success can bring (Figure 1). In the mid-1990s and early 2000s, the Squam Lake population was averaging 14 pairs of adults, 10 hatched chicks, and 6.6 successfully fledged chicks each year. In the banner year of 2003, Squam fledged 15 loon chicks.

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