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Great Lakes Piping Plover
Conservation and Management
Researchers began focused studies in the early 1980's to provide information on the Great Lakes piping plover to help prevent its extinction. Much of the work has been directed by Dr. Francie Cuthbert of the University of Minnesota and her graduate students and research fellows. Research results help craft a conservation strategy directed at the most vulnerable points of the plovers' life history, primarily successful fledging of young.
Surveys and Monitoring
Researchers survey breeding sites in Michigan and Wisconsin every spring to find piping plovers and their nests. All nests are monitored throughout the breeding season. Additionally, during the International Piping Plover Census, biologists survey historic breeding and wintering areas at least once every five years.
In 1994, the Service started organizing volunteers in Michigan to patrol piping plover nesting areas over holiday weekends. Patrolling continued and expanded in subsequent years with participation of the Michigan DNR and the National Park Service on Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. Similarly, in Wisconsin, National Park Service employees and volunteers patrol the beaches around nest sites on the Apostle Island National Lakeshore.
Protection of Eggs and Chicks
All nests located by monitors are fenced to protect them from predators. The most common predator exclusion fence is welded wire supported by fence posts around the nest and topped with monofilament line. Smaller welded wire boxes were once used but in 1993 after a red fox destroyed a clutch of eggs protected by the box-type exclosure. Since then, box exclosures are used only on private land with narrow beaches or when landowners object to the larger exclosure.
Our piping plover monitors also put up psychological fencing, in concert with predator exclosures, at most nest sites to prevent people and dogs from walking near plover nests. Psychological fencing is merely bailing twine held in place with fence posts with “Unlawful to Enter” or “Closed Area” signs attached to the fencing. The fencing cannot physically prevent people from walking near the nest but does stop most people from entering the closed area. The size of the closed area is generally a 100-foot circle.
In Michigan, consistent use of exclosures and psychological fencing increased hatching success from 37% to 72% between 1984 and 1999. Despite the success of monitoring and protecting plover nest, loss of chicks remains a major source of mortality.
Captive Rearing and Release
Captive rearing is a last resort salvage effort when plovers abandon a nest. The eggs are collected, incubated, and hatched. Chicks are raised and released near wild piping plovers. One captive-reared individual returned as an adult for 3 consecutive breeding seasons and successfully raised offspring. Fledging success is greater than 90% with captive rearing, as compared with 25-76% fledging success in the wild.
Apostle Island National Lakeshore - Piping Plover Monitoring and Protection
Long Island, part of the Apostle Island National Lakeshore, is currently the only area in Wisconsin where piping plovers nest successfully. Plovers have been regularly nesting on Long Island since 1998. Between 1998 and 2006, 2 to 6 adult piping plovers were seen on Long Island during the nesting season and 0 to 5 chicks fledged each year. However, between 2006 and 2011, numbers of adults increased, with 9 to 12 present each year. The number of chicks fledged also increased and ranged from 6 to 12.
Protection of plovers on Long Island is a cooperative effort between the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Bad River Tribe, The Nature Conservancy and Johnson family, and the University of Minnesota researchers.
Restoring Piping Plover Nesting to Wisconsin Point and the St. Louis River Estuary
Historically, the St. Louis River Bay area was known to support a breeding population of piping plovers. Piping plovers are still occasionally reported during spring migration, but no nesting has been documented since 1985. With the plover population in the Great Lakes on the upswing, the time is right to attract piping plovers for nesting to re-establish a breeding population. The bay has good potential for re-colonization because plovers from Michigan are emigrating west as available habitat fills, suitable habitat can be maintained here, local migratory use continues, and there is potential to manage development and human use of identified nesting areas.
The project has three objectives: 1) develop nesting attractants, 2) respond to plover nesting behavior and nest establishment, and 3) carry out a local public outreach and education program about plovers.
USFWS Coastal Program – Great Lakes Funds: $250,000.00
Last updated: April 14, 2015