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A lone baby loon: What should one do with orphaned animals?

BAXTER, Minn. -- Loon chicks are most often seen perched atop the backs of their parents in an effort to protect them from potential predators.

Which is why when one loon chick found itself alone in the lawn near state Rep. Josh Heintzeman’s Baxter home, it drew some attention. After Heintzeman and his family found the baby loon, he called Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Jim Guida to determine what he should do next.

Guida said finding loon chicks alone on land is unusual. He could not recall hearing of this occurring another time in the last five or 10 years, he said. This is true because, unlike ducks, loons are not well equipped to travel on land. Their legs are positioned far back on their bodies, forcing them to lunge or skid when out of the water.

“The young are growing, they’re exploring, they wander away from the nest,” Guida said. “If an adult was off the nest in search of food, this young loon chick decided to wander.”

He said in this case, it was likely the chick wandered landward instead of lakeward.

Guida said the DNR’s official recommendation is to leave wildlife alone when it is encountered, with a few exceptions. If one does have contact, however, the next step is to immediately return the animal to where it was found.

In this case, Heintzeman told Guida he’d witnessed an adult loon flying overhead, landing in a nearby pond. Guida recommended he attempt to return the chick to its parents, and as soon as possible, from where his family was keeping it safe.

Heintzeman and his family piled into a canoe with the chick in a small container and set out on the water, where an adult loon was frantically calling. Once they came somewhat close to the adult, they released the chick into the water and the pair was reunited.

Guida said as a conservation officer, his role is to provide guidance so people remain within the law. Heintzeman took the right course of action for the situation, he said, because it is illegal for those without a special rehabilitation license to remain in possession of a wild animal for more than 24 hours.