The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota (WRC) shared a story on its Facebook page Monday as advice for anyone who may encounter a loon chick this summer.
A loon chick who was just days old came to the WRC after it was found alone on the shoreline of Lake Owasso near Roseville.
The clients who brought in the baby loon "had done everything right" – after spotting the little loon, they left if for the loon's parents. After 24 hours, they decided to bring the chick to the WRC in Roseville, the post said.
The WRC kept the loon overnight and gave it supportive care while the clients looked for the loon's parents. After they found them, they picked up the loon to try to reunite it with its parents.
"Following our instructions, they slowly approached in a canoe and once the adult loons heard the young loon peeping, the clients placed the loon in the water and were thrilled to see it swim toward the parents," the WRC's post said.
The WRC said the loon is much better off with its wild family because loons are "notoriously hard to raise in captivity." In fact, the WRC says it is one of the few centers that has successfully done it.
"Loon babies are very fragile and can easily die from stress," the WRC said.
Not a happy ending
However, this story doesn't end with a happy ending. The loon was found dead Monday evening after the clients noticed the loon's parents were in distress and without the loon chick.
"The little chick was found deceased a few hours ago," the WRC wrote in a comment on the original Facebook post. "Our hearts break for the loons and the wonderful clients who did everything possible to give the loon a good chance at life."
The WRC did a necropsy on the chick, finding "several interesting things," all of which could have contributed to the loon's death. Among them: head trauma that wasn't there when the chick was initially brought to WRC, the start of a bone infection, and a stomach ulcer.
"These issues could have been somehow apparent to the adults, but would not have shown in our exams or likely even in lab work," the post said. "These complicating issues, combined with the stress from the past couple days and the head trauma, were probably all it took for this fragile chick to die."
Although the chick didn't make it, the WRC said it hopes sharing the story will help save other loons this summer.
If you find a baby loon alone
Loon chicks can get easily separated from their parents, but that doesn't mean you have to rescue the chick right away – they're better off in the wild without their parents than at a wildlife center.
So, if you do find a loon chick or a swan cygnet, leave it be if it's in a safe area and uninjured. Check back on the young bird – if its parents haven't found it yet, safely contain the bird in a covered container and then that evening seek out the parents.
When the parents are found, lower the bird into the water facing the parents and stay completely still. Once they begin swimming toward each other, slowly back away.
But make sure you have the correct family. With both loons and swans, choosing the wrong family can result in the baby being killed.
"Pay attention to the loon and swan families on your lake now to learn their territories and the number of babies. That knowledge could help you reunite the family down the road," the post said.
Keep loons safe while boating
Boating season is a stressful time for waterfowl, especially young loons who cannot dive under the water, the WRC notes. Too much activity around them can cause them to get separated from their parents.
Here are a few things the WRC asks people to do to protect Minnesota's state bird:
- When boating, give loons a "very wide birth." Assume all loons have one or two chicks nearby, even if you don't see them.
- If you see people harassing loons, snap a photo of their boat registration and report it to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources right away.
- Observe no-wake zones and if loons are crossing a channel in front of you, stop and allow them to cross.