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Lead-poisoned loon rescued from Mascoma Lake

  • A Loon swims in the waters on Lake Winnipesaukee in Wolfeboro, N.H. Sunday, April 20, 2014. Loons return to the lake in the spring after the lake melts from the deep freeze.(AP Photo/Jim Cole) Each Monday and Friday throughout the summer, loon biologist Tiffany Grade leads tours across Squam Lake, where tourists can catch up-close glimpses of the birds. Jim Cole

  • A male common loon flaps its wings on Squam Lake last month, GEOFF FORESTER

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/16/2021 3:06:23 PM
Modified: 7/16/2021 9:50:44 PM

ENFIELD — The Loon Preservation Committee removed a male loon from Mascoma Lake on Thursday after a blood test revealed that the bird was suffering from lead poisoning. It was taken to a rehabilitation center in Henniker, N.H.

“I’m hopeful. Normally, when loons get lead poisoning, we don’t find out until it’s too late,” said Caroline Hughes, a biologist with the statewide nonprofit, which is based in Moultonborough, N.H.

An X-ray Friday morning confirmed that the loon had ingested what looked like metal fish tackle and a fishhook fragment, she said.

The Loon Preservation Committee has had a necropsy conducted on every dead loon recovered in New Hampshire waters since 1989. This wealth of data revealed that poisoning from ingesting lead fishing tackle is the leading cause of adult loon mortality, accounting for 42% of documented loon deaths in the state.

The committee advocated for the nation’s first laws that restricted the use of small lead sinkers and jigs on New Hampshire lakes and ponds in 2000. Even stronger legislation went into effect in 2016 that bans the sale and freshwater use of lead sinkers and jigs weighing one ounce or less in the state.

The committee and New Hampshire Fish and Game also sponsor a buy-back program so that anglers can trade in their lead tackle for loon-safe alternatives.

Enfield resident and committee volunteer Terri Lynch has been monitoring loons on Mascoma Lake for 15 years. She said that the rescued loon has a partner and a chick.

Loons share parenting responsibilities, and so the chick is now especially vulnerable. She said that the committee recommends that everyone on the lake, including boaters and kayakers, avoid coming within 150 feet of the mother and chick.

“People really need to protect her space. She’s doing an impossible job,” Lynch said. “She doesn’t need any more stress.”

Claire Potter is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at or 603-727-3242.

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