Migratory Bird Management
Alaska Region



For more information on these and other projects involving loons and grebes, please contact Tamara ZELLER, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Migratory Bird Management, 1011 E. Tudor Road, ms 201, Anchorage, Alaska 99503; 907-786-3517;


Common Loons (Gavia immer), Pacific Loons (G. pacifica), and occasional Red-throated Loons (G. stellata) occupy lakes in the lower Matanuska-Susitna Valley and northern Kenai Peninsula in south-central Alaska.  These populations may be impacted by increasing human settlement and disturbance associated with the use of lakes for recreation.  Volunteers of the Alaska Loon and Grebe Watch began monitoring loons in 1985; however, this program is limited in effort and geographic distribution.  The expanse of loon habitat with no road access has made extensive population-level monitoring difficult.  In May 2001, we began an aerial survey to determine the distribution, abundance, productivity, and population trend of loons in south-central Alaska.  The data gathered will establish baseline information on loon populations useful for monitoring, assessment, and management decisions.  Specific objectives are:

1) To monitor the trend of Common and Pacific Loon populations.  With 5 years of data, we will estimate the spatial and temporal scale for which reliable trend information can be obtained.

2) To estimate the spatial distribution and relative importance of various lakes and lake systems for loons (i.e. determine which lakes tend to be occupied over time)

3) To estimate the production of young in each geographic unit, for comparison of areas with different levels of human impact.

4) To estimate the total population size for each survey unit.

5) To relate loon distribution, population trend, and productivity to other variables such as: a) general patterns of disturbance by people, boats, aircraft, homes, pets, or commercial development, b) water quality, c) populations of forage fish or northern pike. 


ROBERT A. STEHN, ROBERT M. PLATTE, WILLIAM LARNED, TAMARA ZELLER, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Migratory Bird Management

Alaska Loon and Grebe Watch

The Alaska Loon and Grebe Watch was initiated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in 1985 to assess the distribution and nesting success of loons in Anchorage, where 65% of Alaska’s human population lives. Lake surveys rely heavily on volunteer participation and community efforts.  Up to 200 lakes have been monitored each year since 1985 by volunteers throughout the local communities.  LoonWatch information includes names of lakes surveyed, dates observed, observer, number of adult and juvenile loons seen, species of loons, nesting attempts, nest location, and estimated chick survivorship.  The involvement by local citizens has proved invaluable; the program has not only stimulated interest in loon conservation, but has also raised concern about the welfare of the local environment. The Alaska Loon and Grebes Watch continues to monitor lakes in the Anchorage area and has expanded its efforts to include surveys of lakes in the Matanuska-Susitna River Valley and on the Kenai Peninsula. 

Personnel:  TAMARA ZELLER, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Migratory Bird Management  


Lakes greater than 7ha on 61 7km x 7km plots were searched by 2 crews in Cessna 206 amphibious aircraft for Yellow-billed Loons, Pacific Loons, and loon nests on the arctic coastal plain of Alaska 18-24 June 2003.  The objectives of this survey were to estimate loon population size, estimate loon detection rate, and obtain loon locations for habitat modeling.  Four plots were searched independently by both crews sequentially to develop a detection rate for each crew.  Crews searched all water bodies within 5 plots to examine potential use of smaller water bodies by Yellow-billed Loons.

Population indices from this survey were 2,090 yellow-billed loons and 39,945 Pacific loons for the arctic coastal plain survey area.  Yellow-billed Loons occurred more frequently on large lakes relative to available lakes on the survey area.  Detection rate analysis and habitat modeling have not been completed.  We have derived independent habitat variables including lake size, perimeter, shoreline shape, shoreline vegetation, distance to streams, and depth to use in a logistic regression model to predict and map probability of yellow-billed loon occurrence for the entire survey area.  Results may be useful for management of the species during potential oil and gas development on the arctic coastal plain.

Additional plots (up to 81 more plots) will be surveyed in summer 2004 following the same protocol as in 2003.  All data will be analyzed and a final report will be completed by spring 2005.

Personnel: ROBERT A. STEHN, ROBERT M. PLATTE, WILLIAM LARNED, ED MALLEK, TAMARA ZELLER, DENNIS MARKS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Migratory Bird Management

SUSAN L. EARNST, U.S. Geological Survey, Forest & Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center


Common (Gavia immer) and Pacific (G. pacifica) loons are high profile species of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in south-central Alaska and a major attraction for tourists and residents seeking a wilderness experience. As visitation and recreational use of lakes within the refuge and surrounding area increase, breeding loons as well as other wildlife face greater threats to their survival and reproductive success. These threats can include overt acts of human disturbance, such as harassment and destruction of habitat, or the less obvious hazards of discarded lead sinkers and monofilament line.

In recognition of the need to address these threats and conserve loons for future generations, a proactive plan blending scientific investigation with outreach and education was initiated in 2003 when a group of biologists began a capture-marking program of loons on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.  In all 6 loons were captured and banded with USFWS metal leg bands and color bands for future identification.  Also, two loons were fitted with satellite transmitters allowing scientists to follow the movements of each loon for approximately one year.  High school students are currently working on projects utilizing the satellite telemetry data to plot the movements of the loons in a GIS format for display on the Internet.


TAMARA ZELLER, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Migratory Bird Management

JOEL SCHMUTZ, DAN MULCAHY, U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division


DAVE EVERS, KATE TAYLOR, Biodiversity Research Institute

JEFF FAIR, Fairwinds Wildlife Services

Last Upated: March 26, 2010