OAKLAND — Gary Bennett gently removed the 2-week-old loon from a box and cupped the chick in his gloved hands as the boat drifted Monday in the sparkling waters of Messalonskee Lake.

Then came the high-pitched cry from the baby, whom he had named Jordan. Just three days ago, Bennett, who runs Snow Pond Cruises on the 9.5-mile-long lake, had captured the chick after noticing a grape-sized tumor on its leg. An animal rehabilitation center in Freedom surgically removed the tumor and Jordan was returned with a clean bill of health.

Monday afternoon, the chick’s parents paddled near the boat and responded with a series of distinctive wails that loons are known for when searching for a mate or a baby. The eerily serene wails heralded an emotional reunion for both human and bird, as Jordan came back to the waters of the lake and back to its parents.

Bennett, 68, is a registered Maine guide and licensed commercial boat operator who has lived on the lake for 33 years and has been running Snow Pond Cruises since 2014.

“This was absolutely phenomenal. I said to a number of people, what happened is in the top 30 events in my whole life,” Bennett said in an interview Wednesday. “When you can reunite a family like that, especially after taking the baby away from mom and dad … this is very rare, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Gary Bennett

The loon is known as one of Maine’s most beloved birds, with a population in steady rebound in recent years. Maine Audubon has estimated that there are some 3,200 adult loons and 400 loon chicks in the southern half of Maine, which is the part of the state covered by the annual count.


Bennett first came across Jordan like so many other loons on Messalonskee Lake, which is also known as Snow Pond and has 31 miles of shoreline. When Bennett sees loons of interest, he names them. Bennett remembers seeing the loon parents the night of Friday, July 19, at his end of the lake, and then the next morning at 6:10 a.m. he saw the new-born hatchling, whom he named Jordan.

On Friday night, Aug. 2, he was out on the lake giving a tour when he noticed baby Jordan come uncharacteristically close to the cruise boat, so close that Bennett could have reached out and touched the chick.

Bennett looked down and had a clear view of what appeared to be a tumor, about the size of a grape, on Jordan’s small leg. He took some photos.

He arrived back home and left an after-hours message about the encounter with Avian Haven, a bird rehabilitation center in Freedom. Over the next day, Avian Haven looked at Bennett’s photos of the tumor and asked if he could rescue the chick to be brought to the center.

Jordan, a newborn loon chick, is seen the morning of July 20 on Messalonskee Lake. Photo courtesy of Peter Agnes

On Saturday morning, Bennett went out onto Snow Pond with a previously-scheduled cruise group from Pennsylvania who love loons and would help handle the net in the rescue effort. Bennett said he could tell the loon family based on their territory in the lake.

“It took a half-hour to wrangle that baby into the net,” Bennett said. “The parents, of course, were very upset and running interference. That little sucker was being pretty evasive, but we stabbed the net into the water and caught it.”


Rob Jones, a volunteer rescuer with Avian Haven, arrived that afternoon to get the chick. Meanwhile, Bennett was so affected by the rescue, and seeing the distress of Jordan’s parents, that he had trouble sleeping that night.

Avian Haven officials documented the chick’s case Sunday on their Facebook page, saying the common loon chick “had a large mass at the tip of one toe, which appeared to be a tumor of some kind. Our veterinarian, Dr. Neville, removed the mass this afternoon, which required removal of the tip of one toe as well. We don’t yet know what this mass is, but Dr. Neville is confident that it is not an abscess or other kind of infection.”

Jordan underwent surgery and was given a clean bill of health by Avian Haven.

Diane Winn, executive director of Avian Haven, said in an interview Wednesday that while the facility does receive quite a few loons, they’ve only seen one or two previous cases involving a tumor. “We won’t know what the tumor is for a few weeks,” Winn said. “Our vet got it all, so we don’t have any fear of it coming back. It’s gone to the pathology lab at the University of New Hampshire.”

Jordan, a loon chick, is seen Monday after the baby was treated for a foot tumor and just before being reunited back with its parents on Snow Pond in Oakland. Photo courtesy of Gary Bennett

Avian Haven officials asked Bennett if he could try to reunite Jordan with its parents. He accepted.

Before that, he went out onto the lake to scout around and locate the parents, fearing they might have moved on and become more social with other loons. But the couple hadn’t, and in fact, they quickly approached Bennett’s boat, apparently recognizing the vessel that had taken their baby.


The “capture” team from Pennsylvania was summoned once again Monday afternoon for the reunion, so that they could “see this thing full circle.” They were joined by Jones, from Avian Haven, as well as people from the Friends of Messalonskee group.

Bennett borrowed Jones’s gloves and opened the box containing Jordan after getting within 100 feet of the parents. He opened the box and that’s when Jordan began crying, and the parents “went ballistic” and cruised close to the boat, unleashing their own wails.

Jones then took over holding the chick as Bennett positioned the boat alongside the parents.

Jordan, left, a loon chick, is seen Monday after the baby was treated for a foot tumor and was reunited back with its parents on Snow Pond in Oakland. Photo courtesy of Gary Bennett

Video of the reunion on Snow Pond Cruise’s Facebook page captures the moment Jones releases Jordan back into the water and the loon family comes back together, as onlookers on Bennett’s boat gasp and search for words. “Look at that,” a woman remarked. “Oh my god, that is so wonderful. That is truly a blessing for us to see that.”

The loon parents began immediately diving for food for their baby.

“I’m just beside myself,” Bennett said Wednesday, marveling that it all happened because he happened to get close enough to Jordan to see the potentially life-threatening tumor. “I still get goosebumps looking at that video. There was so much emotion on the boat.”

Jordan, right, a loon chick, is seen Monday after the baby was treated for a foot tumor and was reunited back with its parents on Snow Pond in Oakland. Photo courtesy of Gary Bennett

Bennett has seen the reunited family several times while on lake tours in the days since. The loons hang out within a mile of his house along the lake.

Jordan will continue to grow, Bennett said, and sometime in December they will fly away to migrate. In the spring, the loon parents will return to Messalonskee Lake to have another baby.

“And Jordan,” Bennett mused, “who knows where he’s going to go. Probably to another lake in Maine.”

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