Few kinds of animals evoke the awe associated with aquatic birds, which are creatures of both air and water. And among them, few species capture as much public attention as Common Loons, a beloved and charismatic presence on summer lakes. Although Maine appears to have a robust and healthy Loon population at this time, there are some concerns, including habitat disruption due to recreational lake activities and shoreline development. Mercury contamination is perhaps the most serious current threat; in some parts of Maine, population viability is already negatively impacted. More immediate anthropogenic factors account for slightly more than half of adult loon mortality in New England, with lead poisoning from ingested fishing weights the leading cause of death. Other human-origin difficulties include internal and external injuries from monofilament and other fishing gear, and unlawful shooting.
These photos show x-rays of birds admitted to Avian Haven in 2011: one with an ingested lead sinker; one with ingested assorted fishing gear; one with two projectiles (and a resultant wing fracture).
Sick or injured individuals are readily noticed by members of the public, who may either contact wildlife agencies for assistance or attempt rescues on their own. Once delivered to a rehabilitation setting, Loons are one of the most challenging species, requiring advanced skills plus specialized dry and wet housing and a ready supply of fish. Pools with a continuous overflow to keep the surface water clean are a must, as is a means of siphoning or vacuuming waste products. Though the heaviest demand is during the warmer months, some pools may be needed year-round, which requires heating of water and/or ambient air in the winter. Avian Haven has met these requirements, but our Loon admissions have increased dramatically in the last year, and we could better serve the birds by upgrading our capacity, in terms of pool size, number, and ease of winter operation.
Although highly visible to the public eye, Common Loons are just one among many aquatic avian species, all of which have similar needs in rehabilitation. As indicated in our 2011 Water Birds Slide Show, our aquatic admissions generally have been on the rise in the last couple years. The closing slides of that show contain our first layout for a new pool facility, but it has evolved since then into the design shown below.
The structure houses four fiberglass pools ranging in surface area from roughly 16 to 72 square feet, and in volume from about 200 to 1,000 gallons. All pools are two feet deep. A utility sink can serve as a washing station or provide an additional swimming area for small bird. Each pool has its own water supply, overflow standpipe, and drain (with all pool outflows feeding into a common drain). Waste is removed by a siphon hose that also feeds into the common drain. Removable heavy-duty pool heaters can bring water temperatures as high as desired for winter or convalescent use. Removable haul-outs can be added to pools to enable birds to leave and re-enter the water on a temporary, as-desired basis. Individuals that need to spend longer periods out of water (e.g., birds with wounds or loss of waterproofing) can be placed in soft-sided, cushioned "dry pen" enclosures. Each pool is surrounded by netted panels that keep individual birds within their own pool areas and provide vision barriers to other parts of the building. The panels feature two or more door sets to facilitate access to all parts of a given pool. The structure has a concrete floor, two windows on each side, and a large skylight. The building's overall dimensions are 24' x 20' (480 square feet). To facilitate winter use, the building is insulated, and a small propane heater can provide higher air temperatures when needed.
The aquatic birds facility is dedicated to the memory of Ken Bailey, who was for many years Camden's Megunticook Lake Warden. Funding for the project has been provided by the American Foundation, the Bangor Savings Bank Foundation, the Hochgraf Foundation, the Island Foundation, the John Sage Foundation, the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, the Roy Foundation, and several private donors who prefer to remain anonymous.
The photos below show the development of the project and some of its recent occupants. As of mid-May, the facility is completely operational for the summer season; all of the pools have been in use. Some features (e.g., the utility sink) will be added in the fall, or whenever time and funding permit.