New nesting platform built to protect P.E.I. loons from predators

The Island Nature Trust is trying a new way to protect a pair of nesting loons at Deroche Pond in Blooming Point, P.E.I. The loon nesting platform is designed to keep the loon eggs away from predators, including raccoons on the shoreline and raptors in the sky.

'It's definitely one of those things, if you build it, they will come'

The mesh over top of the platform is designed to protect the nest from raptors, including eagles. (Island Nature Trust)

The Island Nature Trust is trying a new way to protect a pair of nesting loons at DeRoche Pond in Blooming Point, P.E.I.

The loon nesting platform is designed to keep the loon eggs away from predators, including raccoons on the shoreline and raptors in the sky.

"A loon nesting platform is essentially a small island that we're creating for a pair of loons to safely nest in the middle of a lake or pond," said Brendan Kelly, an avian field technician with the Island Nature Trust.

"Loons are susceptible to terrestrial predators such as foxes, coyotes, raccoons, skunks and especially around DeRoche Pond, there is certainly a high amount of evidence to suggest that these predators are present along the shoreline, as well there are a lot of eagles."

An Island Nature Trust avian field technician looks across DeRoche Pond at the area where the loon nesting platform has been installed. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Right now, the platform looks like a couple of logs with some plants on top and a mesh covering. 

"But within a year or two, when you see the platform it's just going to look basically like a tuft of grass, a small island by itself in the pond," Kelly said.

"Hopefully, if we're patient and we wait a couple years and the vegetation is able to mature, I think that there's a good chance that we could have a pair of loons occupy our little oasis."

The Island Nature Trust hopes this platform will inspire other groups to create similar ones for loons in their areas on P.E.I. (Island Nature Trust)

The platform is not visible from the road to Blooming Point beach, a deliberate decision by the Island Nature Trust. 

"The platform's in a little bit of a secretive location, we didn't want to put it close to the road to get people to come and see it, we didn't want to become an attraction," Kelly said.

"It is nice to think that there's loons nesting on the pond but we don't really need to see it, that way the loons aren't disturbed because they're very susceptible to human disturbances whether it be canoes or people swimming."

Unconfirmed loons

Kelly said there are loons on P.E.I., but not as many as in other parts of Canada, where there are large freshwater lakes and the kind of space the loons need to take off in flight.

"On P.E.I., they're more often seen in the ocean, however we do suspect that there are some places on P.E.I. where loons nest," Kelly said.

"DeRoche Pond is one place where we know they've nested in the past as people have seen them with the chicks and on nests."

A loon spotted at Monroe Lake, south of Cranbrook, B.C., one of the provinces that has been using loon nesting platforms for years. (Stewart Wilson)

He said there may be some other places in western P.E.I. where they nest but they haven't been confirmed.

Kelly said they're not expecting the loons to move to the platform this season, but get used to it, and hopefully move in next year.

"It's definitely one of the things I think if you build it they will come, seems like it's been like that in other places," Kelly said. 

Good success rate

The Island Nature Trust is hoping the nesting platform will have the same kind of success on P.E.I. as they have in other parts of the country. 

"They found that it usually will take a couple of years for the vegetation to mature and it will actually more closely resemble a natural island," Kelly said.

"But once it does mature and it looks the part it seems that they have a fairly good rate of success with occupancy and loons that nest on these platforms are seemingly safer than if they nest on the shoreline."

The crew from Island Nature Trust put plants on top of the platform to make it look like an island in the pond. (Island Nature Trust)

Kelly said the platforms make sense because loons return to the same nesting grounds. 

"Loons do have site fidelity, which means that they're very reliable and coming back to the same place year after year especially if they've been successful in the past," Kelly said.

"Which is something we think may be the case at DeRoche Pond."

Canadian icon

Kelly is hoping the loon nesting platform at DeRoche Pond may also inspire similar efforts across the Island. 

"I think it would hopefully spur — in the future — more initiatives so that more lakes and ponds on P.E.I. can have loons," Kelly said.

"I think loons have a lot of appeal for Canadians because if anybody has ever heard the call of a loon in the evening, it's a very distinct sound that you never forget."

The Island Nature Trust has just installed this loon nesting platform on DeRoche Pond. (Island Nature Trust)

Kelly said funding for the loon nesting program came from the P.E.I. Wildlife Conservation Fund, which Islanders contribute to by purchasing conservation licence plates. 

"I think a lot of people take great pride in knowing that there are loons and knowing that they have them on their lake or ponds," Kelly said. 

"I think that's kind of one of the reasons that we'd like to help them is that they're so iconic."

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Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.