Lake Vermilion Loons

The Loon Count … A Lake Vermilion Tradition

Lake Vermilion volunteers will repeat “the count” for the 35th time on Monday,  July 10. Last year, 262 loons were recorded, including 34 chicks. Both numbers were near the 10-year historical average.

Lake Vermilion has always been known for its large population of loons. To lake residents and frequent visitors, the loon has been something special. One never tires of the haunting cries in the early morning or late evening hours, the sight of a loon cruising the open waters of the lake with his head below water looking for a meal, or the special scene of a loon chick — or maybe two — riding on a parent’s back to keep warm.

In the early 1980s, news of loon die-offs in wintering areas off the Florida coast worried Vermilion Lake Association (VLA) members. They could have been “our” loons! In 1983, the VLA began keeping count of the loons on Lake Vermilion every summer.

The task was quite large: Thousands of acres of water, many bays and islands, and a bird that wouldn’t sit still long enough to be counted only once. But if enough volunteers could be on the water on the same day, at the same time, an accurate count could be taken. Today, Lake Vermilion’s loon count is the longest running, single-lake count of common loons anywhere in the United States.

How does one count loons? They spend extended periods underwater. And the chicks sometimes ride on the backs of the adults, appearing as only a strange bump under the feathers on the parent’s back. Practice helps, and the Vermilion Lake Association has been doing this since 1983. Read more about the process here.

If you’d like to join this team, please contact west-end coordinator Claire Zwieg ( or 218-666-5008) or east-end coordinator Ellen Hintz ( or 218-753-2401). Substitute counters are needed from time to time.

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