Common loon found with missing leg

November 30, 2023

A common loon was among the sixty animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include five double-crested cormorants, a blue jay, a tri-colored heron, a hispid cotton rat and a black racer.

Common Loon Suffers from Missing Leg

The common loon was found injured on the beach. Nine people called to report the bird. None of the callers were able to help at the moment.

The last person to call was hesitant to help, but she offered to watch the loon while hospital staff contacted volunteers to see if anyone was available to help. Wildlife Hospital Volunteer, Tara Foster, had just finished her volunteer shift and offered to go to the beach to rescue the loon.

Five minutes after Tara headed to the beach, one of the people who called earlier in the morning said she had gone back home, got a towel and was back at the beach ready to help, but was nervous and unsure how to help. Staff reassured the woman our volunteer was on the way and asked her to stay with the bird in case Tara needed assistance.

A photo texted to the Wildlife Hospital shows a common loon in distress. The loon was missing its right leg and unable to move once it came onshore.

The loon was Tara’s first rescue.

Hospital staff had advised Tara to cover the loon’s head and body with a towel, gently pick the bird up with a hand on each side of its body and place it in the transport box.

Keeping the head covered is important because the darkness from the towel keeps the bird calm and makes handling easier. Tara wore a pair of sunglasses to keep herself safe. Loons have a long neck and pointy beak and there was a chance the loon might try to defend itself when handled. The sunglasses kept Tara’s eyes safe from injury. Tara returned with the loon and mentioned the bird was so weak, it didn’t struggle at all. 

A physical exam confirmed the loon was emaciated, weak, dehydrated and missing its right leg. The leg injury wasn’t fresh, so the loon had been struggling to survive for an extended period of time. Due to the severity of the injury, the only course of treatment was humane euthanasia.

Be Prepared for Wildlife Rescues

Please, be prepared to offer assistance to wildlife in need, especially when visiting the beach.

Many issues (red tide, fishing line entanglement, loss of habitat) affect multiple species of shorebirds so it is common to encounter a bird in distress when visiting local beaches.

Carry a towel with you when walking and keep a pet carrier or ventilated box in your car. The von Arx Wildlife Hospital does not have an official rescue service and we rely heavily on the public to assist if they find an animal in distress. Rescues are less daunting when you have the appropriate gear.

Rescuing an animal in distress may interrupt your plans for a relaxing day at the beach, but helping another living creature that is injured and suffering is incredibly rewarding and the ultimate act of altruism and kindness.

Call the von Arx Wildlife Hospital if you find an animal in distress and you’re unsure of how to help. Staff can determine the appropriate course of action. The von Arx Wildlife Hospital is open seven days a week, including all holidays. Our number is 239-262-2273.

Recent Releases

A tri-colored heron, two Cooper’s hawks, a boat-tailed grackle, an eastern cottontail, three red-shouldered hawks and a burrowing owl were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help

Visit our website to learn about opportunities to get involved. Pease consider volunteering, if you are unable to give of your time as a volunteer, become a member or donate. Donations are tax-deductible and make a tremendous impact on our ability to procure needed supplies. As a non-profit, balancing resources is always a challenge. Your support helps the Conservancy continue to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future. 

Joanna Fitzgerald is director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, 1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples, Florida 34102. Call 239-262-2273 or see