Favorite Memories From a Life’s Work

Dr. Walter Piper Studying Northern Wisconsin LoonsPart 5 of an interview series with Dr. Piper, founder of The Loon Project, a 20 year study of loon behavior in Oneida County, Wisconsin.

NorthernWisconsin.com:  Do you have a favorite memory or story from your Northern Wisconsin loon experiences so far?

Dr. Piper:  After two decades of working in northern Wisconsin, I have lots of good memories. Many of these come from friendships I have made with folks who live on our study lakes.

However, one of my warmest memories was of saving a loon’s life who had become entangled in monofilament fishing line in 2009. This bird, a female nonbreeder, had fishing line on her head, wings and legs. She was a mess. She was also rather skittish and would dive, albeit awkwardly, whenever we got within 20 yards in a canoe. Still, it was awful to watch how she struggled, and it was clear that she was unable to move about effectively. So we decided that we must try and free her from the line.

We waited for nightfall to try and find her in our spotlight and net her. She was not quite as evasive at night as during the daytime, and we were lucky to catch her on the first try. Once we were back on shore, it took only a few minutes to snip the line off her body. We banded her too, since she was in good condition. She has not settled on a territory yet, but we have seen her as a territorial intruder each year since.

NorthernWisconsin.com: Your research and findings are fascinating.  Is there any way northern Wisconsin residents or visitors can help you with your research?

Dr. Piper:  We find it very helpful to have people report loon battles and loon injuries to us so that we can learn from this behavior and also get help for struggling loons. We are only able to visit our study lakes for an hour every 4-5 days, so we often miss exciting territorial contests. Please email me at wpiper@chapman.edu. And, while we are not qualified to rehabilitate wildlife, we know that you can contact Wild Instincts to get help for injured loons.

More from Dr. Piper and The Loon Project discoveries:

Part 1: About Dr. Walter Piper & The Loon Project
Part 2: Do Loons Mate for Life?
Part 3: Male Loons Fight to the Death
Part 4: Loon Banding & How We Track Them
Part 5: Favorite Memories

[Image: Courtesy of Dan Salisbury via The Loon Project]


  1. Susan says:

    We have a cottage in Eastern Ontario and the best thing about it are the loons. I have several good memories of these wonderful birds. One was last summer. Mama loon was in the middle of the lake in late August/early Sept with her chick. My friend was watching them from the cottage thru binoculars and thought that Mama must have been tangled in something as she was making some very weird movements and not diving. The chick was just sort of swimming around ignoring her. I took the canoe out and slowly approached to see if Mama was in trouble but soon realized she was not. The water all around them was filled with chick down and I am sure Mama with all her gyrations was just telling the little one to shake it up a bit…got to get of that down before we have to fly away. They soon both dove under and moved away from me…and I paddled home chuckling.

    Many years ago, my brother and myself hatched a domestic peking duck in an incubator we had. We took him to the cottage and put him in the lake for a wee swim. We were all in a circle around him so he couldn’t go far but suddenly, there were several loons swimming a few feet out from us. There had not been loon in sight before this and we were amazed. They seemed quite agitated so we took him out and left things alone for awhile. The loons went away but my Dad called a Canadian wildlife biologist he knew and he said the domestic duck was a stranger/intruder and being territorial they might have ‘done him in’ if they had the chance. To me, it was astonishing how the loons knew that the duck was in the lake. ???

  2. Rita OLSON says:

    I am told LOONS do not walk. Is this correct? Where do they build their nests? I have enjoyed your articles. They are such a beautiful bird. Thank You!

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