Loon Nesting Rafts
Nesting loons face a variety of challenges during their 27-day incubation of eggs. Loon nests are vulnerable to natural or human-induced water level changes that can flood nests or leave them stranded out of reach of parents. Floating nest rafts rise and fall with water levels and help loons cope with these water level changes. Nest rafts also provide alternate nest sites to help loons displaced from traditional sites by shoreline development or recreational use of lakes, and offer protection from raccoons and other scavengers whose populations have increased due to the availability of human refuse.
LPC volunteers and staff float over 80 nest rafts each year for use by nesting loons. These rafts have accounted for close to one of every four loon chicks hatched from known nest sites in New Hampshire, and for as much as 50-90% of chicks hatched on more developed lakes such as Squam and Winnipesaukee.
For the last decade, LPC has been attaching avian predator guards on many nest rafts after they proved their utility in increasing loon nesting success in Maine. These raft covers can also mitigate human recreational impacts because loons may be less likely to flush from rafts equipped with covers.
When used correctly, rafts are a very useful management tool. However, despite their proven effectiveness, rafts are not a cure-all for loons. Nest rafts can do more harm than good if they lure loons away from sheltered and well-hidden natural nesting sites to nest in more exposed or visible areas of the lake.
Most of us would much rather see loons nesting on natural sites than on man-made rafts. Preserving areas of lake or island shorelines in their natural states is still a priority for LPC because these measures help loons as well as providing habitat for other wildlife.
In addition to floating rafts, LPC works with lake associations, power companies, and state agencies to hold lake water levels steady during critical loon nesting periods. This cooperative management reduces our reliance on floating rafts and benefits other wildlife that rely on stable water levels.