Bird 'whisperer' rescues loon from fishing line fiasco

A Sundre father and son staged a loon intervention last Saturday in the Nordegg area after the bird came looking for some help.

'He looked right at us and he did that wing flap that loons do ... he almost said thank you'

Don Gibson of Sundre rescued a loon tangled in fishing line on a recent fishing trip. (Submitted by Don Gibson)

A Sundre father and son staged a loon intervention last Saturday.

It all went down in the Nordegg area, where Don Gibson, his 12-year-old son Carter and wife Jennifer were camping near Shunda Lake.

Down at the dock, Gibson's wife noticed a loon swimming toward them — which was uncharacteristic behavior for a loon.

"I didn't think it was real," Gibson told the Calgary Eyeopener, "because it was coming straight at us. They never swim near humans. I thought it was fake and someone was remote controlling it."

Following its rescue, a tangled loon returned to his familiar place on Shunda Lake, where it swims with four other loons. (Submitted by Don Gibson)

It turned out the loon had become tangled in fishing line, and somehow managed to get a hook lodged in the back of its neck.

According to Gibson, loons normally keep their distance from humans, but this bird was different.

"We approached him nice and gently and patted his head," Gibson said. "And that's when I knew I had to take off my shoes and wade into the water. This bird was not going to try to get away."

Instead, the loon allowed Gibson to pick it up. Gibson's wife, Jennifer, found a caretaker from the nearby campsite. The caretaker brought some snips to help cut the line loose. They started at the bill and worked down the bird's back, until they were able to not only untangle it but also remove the hook.

Loon liberated from fishing line

Gibson needed to pick the loon up a second time, to double check for any fishing line they might have missed, and the loon let him. Finally assured that the loon had been fully liberated, they returned it to the water and set it afloat.

But before the loon floated out onto the lake to rejoin its crew of four other loons that like to linger on Shunda Lake, it stopped.

"He turned around," said Gibson. "(And) he looked right at us and he did that wing flap that loons do to dry off their feathers. He did that right in front of us, and at that point everyone was just clapping. He almost said thank you."

It's the second time Gibson has set free some wildfowl. He had pretty much the same thing happen in Ontario several years ago, so now he calls himself the duck whisperer.

Gibson and his family have been in touch with the campground caretaker. From the sounds of it, the loon is doing fine.

"My son," Gibson said, "really wants to make sure he survives."

With files from Falice Chin and The Eyeopener

The Eyeopener