They’re just as much a part of New Hampshire lore as granite and the Old Man of the Mountain.
Those lucky enough to see a loon or hear its distinctive call on any one of the state’s approximately 350 lakes, including Canobie Lake, consider it a treat.
That’s why loons are one of “603 Reasons” readers say New Hampshire is special.
As summer draws near, loons have started nesting throughout the state. Members of the nonprofit Loan Preservation Committee hope to see their numbers increase after seeing a decline last year, executive director Harry Vogel said.
“It’s a big concern,” Vogel said. “It’s a challenge to maintain the reproductive success that is needed.”
The committee announced yesterday that 41 pairs of nesting loons have been spotted throughout New Hampshire. The first pair was seen May 12 on Bolster Pond in Sullivan.
But those numbers don’t include three loons, including a pair, that make their home on Canobie Lake in Salem and Windham, according to William Schroeder, president of the Canobie Lake Protective Association.
The three have lived on the lake since last year, Schroeder said. There’s usually only a single pair that nests there, he said
This pair has not nested yet, he said.
The association has placed a special raft about 200 feet from shore to encourage the loons to build their nest on it, Schroeder said.
Nesting rafts, which are usually covered, provide protection for the eggs and baby loons, Vogel said. They especially help shield the babies from birds of prey, he said.
While loons are known to live on Canobie Lake, they are not commonly found in the area because it’s widely developed, Vogel said.
“It’s a fairly built-up area and loons are facing some challenges in that strip of Southern New Hampshire,” he said.
Humans pose the biggest threat to loons, he said. Their boats, lead fishing lures and guns are depleting the population.
The committee is asking the public to stay at least 150 feet away from loons, especially boaters.
Loons frightened from their nests usually return 20 to 30 minutes later, Vogel said. But even in that short time, eggs and chicks become vulnerable to predators — further reducing the endangered loon population.
“We want to get the message out,” Vogel said. “The big thing is to give them space.”
One concern is the number of loons still nesting by the Fourth of July, when New Hampshire water are filled with swimmers and boaters who may disturb them.
A later-than-usual “ice out” on lakes this spring means many loons will still be nesting by the holiday, he said.
“This has a real implication for loons,” Vogel said.
The committee’s team of biologists recorded 180 pairs of nesting loons last year, eight fewer pairs than in 2012, Vogel said. Of the 180, 98 were regarded as “failed nests” where the eggs never hatched or the young did not survive.
In a two-year period, a female loon usually lays two to four eggs, but studies indicate an average of only one chick survives, he said.
Adult loons face threats as well.
Two were recently shot and killed in Dover and Moultonborough. It’s a crime in New Hampshire to hurt or attempt to injure a loon.
A third loon in the state died after swallowing a lead-headed fishing jig, he said. Legislation was passed to ban the jigs, but the law doesn’t take effect until 2016, he said.
To report any violence to loons, call the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department at 271-3361 or the state Marine Patrol at 293-2037.
More information on loons can be found on the committee’s website, loon.org.