Annual Adirondack Loon Census

Loons Photo
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

On the third Saturday of July, WCS conducts an annual loon census with the help of local Adirondack residents and visitor volunteers. This data provides a quick glimpse of the status of the breeding loon population in and around the Adirondack Park and across New York State. The results help guide management decisions and policies that affect loons.

Observations made elsewhere in New York State are also welcome. Census volunteers sign up to monitor a lake from 8:00–9:00 a.m. on the census day, and report the number of adult loons, chicks, and immature loons they observe. Similar loon censuses are also conducted in other states throughout the Northeast at the same time on the same day, contributing to a thorough regional overview of the population's current status.

The census is only possible with the help of numerous bird-watchers throughout the Adirondack Park and New York. We are grateful for the participation of all observers!

Download the results from previous years' censuses here:
Summary results from 2001–2011

How to Participate

  1. Select a lake.
    View the Census Lake Selection Table posted here to choose the lake or pond where you will conduct the census survey. To prevent duplicate observations, lakes will be assigned to census observers on a first-come, first-serve basis. In the table, look for:
    • Assigned Lakes: These are lakes and ponds that are currently assigned to other census observers. Please choose a lake that does not have an X under the "Assigned Lakes" column. Any water body that is not on the list is available for survey.
    • Random Lakes: We encourage observers to select a lake or pond from those water bodies that are designated with an X under the "Random Lakes" column. Information from these pre-selected lakes allows WCS to use statistical techniques to better estimate the number of common loons in Adirondack Park.
    • Note: If the lake is privately owned, please obtain the landowner's permission before selecting it!
  2. Contact us to let us know which lake you have selected.
    Please email or call (518) 891-8872, to let us know you would like to be a census observer. Include the following in your message:
    • Your name, address, and phone number
    • The name of the lake where you would like to conduct your observations
    • The county name and township where the lake is located
  3. Download the census form and census instructions.
    See below to learn how to fill in the census form correctly.

    Please return the form by August 1 to:
    WCS Adirondack Program
    7 Brandy Brook Ave., Suite 204
    Saranac Lake, NY 12983

Loon Census Guidelines & Helpful Hints

  1. Conduct your observations for the entire hour of the census.
  2. Note that observations conducted before or after the census hour (8:00–9:00 a.m., third Saturday in July) will not be included in the final census results. For us to get a coordinated snapshot of how many loons are present and where they are, everyone needs to conduct their observations at the same time.
  3. To determine the age of the loons you observe:
    Adult Loons: Fully covered with black and white feathers and full size. Note that some adults, usually male, are much larger than others. Please identify adult loons carefully—they can occasionally be confused with mergansers or cormorants!
    Immature Loons: Fully covered with light and dark gray feathers. They are 2/3 adult size or larger.
    Loon Chicks: They have either black or brown DOWN (no feathers). They are less than 2/3 the size of an adult bird.
  4. Record only the first sighting of each loon or group of loons. Please take care not to count any bird twice.
  5. Do not count loons flying overhead. They should only be counted if they land on the lake or were on the water originally and then took off.
  6. Remember to report "zero" when you do not observe loons. A report of "zero" loons is an important observation (over time, these "zero" observations will enable us to determine if loons are using more or fewer lakes).

Tips for Filling in Loon Census Form

  1. Remember to use a separate form for each lake on which you conduct observations.
  2. Note the location on the lake/pond and the direction in which the loons move or fly. Please note if you conducted observations on the entire lake or on a portion of the lake.
  3. Include a sketch map on the back of the form indicating where you stood, and where the birds were observed. These maps help us learn what parts of the lake loons use.
  4. Your comments on the form are also very helpful! Please feel free to add any information that you feel is not adequately covered in the data portion of the form. We also welcome photos from your census observations.

Thank you for your time! Your contribution helps conserve and protect loons in the Adirondacks.

From the Newsroom

Tenth Annual NY Loon Census a SuccessJuly 22, 2010

Volunteers who participated in the 2010 annual loon census on Saturday, July 17 surveyed more than 300 lakes and ponds in in and around the Adirondack Park and across New York State.

Adirondack Alarm CallMarch 7, 2008

A long-term study by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the BioDiversity Research Institute, and other organizations has found and confirmed that environmental mercury—much of which comes from human-generated emissions—is impacting the health and reproductive success of common loons in the northeastern U.S.

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