PORTLAND, Maine (CBS/AP) — More than 1,000 volunteers and Audubon Society officials conducted counts of loons Saturday in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

About 900 people assisted the Maine Audubon with its 30th annual loon count.

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Volunteers used binoculars at Maine lakes and ponds to count loons as they have since 1983, with a goal of protecting loons and their habitat. The data will be used by the Maine Audubon and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Susan Gallo, director of the Maine Loon Project, said the number of chicks in the southern half of the state has not changed appreciably since 1983, but noted the number dropped significantly last year. In 2011, there were 619 chicks, an all-time high. In 2012, however, there were only 178 chicks.

This year’s count will help determine whether the 2012 drop is the start of a trend, Gallo said.

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“The lack of growth in the number of chicks is alarming when we look at the long-term sustainability of our adult loon population,” she said.

The population of adult loons has showed steady growth in Maine. All told, the total number of loons has grown from 1,800 from the first count to 2,977 in the 2012 count.

The common loon is a threatened species. According to the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, the number of nesting loon pairs in Vermont dropped to seven in the early 1980s. Conservation efforts in Vermont have had an impact: in 2005, the common loon was taken off the Vermont Endangered Species List.

Gallo said loons hold a special place in the hearts of Mainers. “Summer would not be the same without hearing their mysterious call on your local lake or pond. We are fortunate to have such a large group of people looking out for their well-being,” she said.

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