Grounded loon given second chance

JACKSON, Wyo. — Jackson Game Warden Kyle Lash never knows what his next call might entail when he responds to wildlife issues in the valley. When he received word of a loon stranded at Munger Elementary School south of Jackson, he had to think there must be some kind of mistake.

Loons are not particularly common in the Jackson area and definitely not in the parking lot of a school, which is where the cafeteria staff first noticed it as they arrived for school. But Game & Fish received the call via the Teton Raptor Center, who confirmed the bird was a loon and in need of assistance.

Lure and line that was removed from loon’s leg. Courtesy WGFD

It is not unheard of for waterfowl to mistake parking lots as open water, particularly if they’re wet. The problem for diving birds like loons or grebes is that their legs are positioned further back on their body (for fast swimming underwater), requiring a runway of open water to take flight again, thus they can essentially become stuck on land. Further hampering this young loon was some fishing line and a lure that had become entangled on its leg.

The call of the loon is largely considered one of the most beautiful, and eerie, sounds in nature. Loons are also typically known for their striking jet-black plumage with white spotting, which occurs during the breeding season. However, this bird, determined to be a juvenile, has the more subdued, grayish plumage. Game managers say there is no way of knowing the bird’s origin, but given the season, it is likely in the process of migrating to its wintering area somewhere on the Pacific coast. While northwest Wyoming is home to a handful of breeding pairs each summer, loons more commonly nest in the northernmost states and the Canadian provinces.

Fortunately, Lash and fellow Afton Game Warden James Hobbs were able to remove the fishing line. Hobbs then released the bird to Palisades Reservoir near Alpine, an expanse of water suitable for the bird to again take flight.

“These are the ones that make you feel good, when you can help an animal out and release it back to the wild,” said Hobbs. “We much prefer these kinds of happy endings.”

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