East Lansing Ecological Services Field Office

Midwest Region


East Lansing Field Office
2651 Coolidge Road
East Lansing, MI 48823
Phone: 517-351-2555
Fax: 517-351-1443
TTY: 1-800-877-8339

(Federal Relay)

e-mail: EastLansing@fws.gov

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Piping Plover - Great Lakes Population

2013 Field Season Journal

2014 Field Journal

2016 Field Journal


September 9, 2013
Field Season 2013 Wrap Up

Piping plover at Whitefish Point in Michigan.

Piping plover at Whitefish Point in Michigan.

Photo by USFWS

At 66 pairs, this season marks the second highest breeding pair total since the Great Lakes piping plover was listed as endangered (and quite a long time before that) and the second highest number of chicks fledged at 124. 


We saw continued nesting success in Ontario and Wisconsin as well as excellent fledged numbers from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  We also saw birds return to former breeding areas in northern Leelanau County, Michigan and on Manitoulin Island in Ontario. 


While predators were problems at many of our southern locations this year, biologists and monitors at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore worked dawn to dusk and even into the night to help many of plovers successfully renest! Sleeping Bear Dunes continues to be the summer home for over 1/3 of all Great Lakes piping plovers. 


The Detroit Zoo staff and other zoo keepers, who come from all over the country, helped 9 chicks fledge from our captive rearing facility.  After release, these captive reared chicks flew down to the southern Atlantic Coast and Gulf Coast with their wild reared counterparts.  It's amazing how quickly summer goes by when you are working with plovers, already most of the birds are back on their wintering grounds and have molted into their winter plumage.


We have a truly great (and large!) partnership protecting and conserving plovers in the Lakes including federal, state and provincial agencies, nonprofits, university researchers, tribes, and dozens and dozens of regular folks who volunteer.  Seeing birders and others get so excited for these birds by reporting sightings, volunteering for beach surveys, working towards habitat preservation and contributing time for education and other endeavors gives hope that we can keep piping plovers on the road to recovery and even restore them to more of their historic range.


August 22, 2013

The birds are all done - the last of the chicks fledged early last week.  A few are still hanging out on their beaches though.  Within a week or two, we expect that all the piping plovers will have begun their journeys south.


August 21, 2013

Plovers Flourish on the "Shipwreck Coast”

Agate Beach in Grand Marais, on the shoreline of Lake Superior. The Grand Sable Dunes of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore are in the background.

The "shipwreck coast" includes Agate Beach in Grand Marais, an important plover nesting area. The Grand Sable Dunes of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore are in the background.  

Photo by USFWS; Vince Cavalieri

Piping plovers return year after year to the "shipwreck coast," a remote stretch of Lake Superior between the village of Grand Marais and Whitefish Point in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.


With remote and undeveloped dunes and beaches, the shipwreck coast was a last stronghold for the plover before it was listed as endangered in 1986.  After listing, the area gradually became less important to plovers as they shifted breeding to the south along Lake Michigan in the 1990s.  Numbers continued to decrease until a low in 2006 of only one pair. 


Since then, plover numbers have steadily increased along the shipwreck coast, and this year we had a record 12 pairs nesting. Not only a record number of pairs, but also a record number of chicks fledged, with 24 chicks fledging, an excellent average of 2 chicks fledged per pair!


Success along the shipwreck coast can be attributed to the hard work of the Great Lakes piping plover conservation team.  At Grand Marais, Kathy and Bill Davis have coordinated volunteers to monitor and protect plovers for many years.  Kathy and Bill report that over 30 volunteers spent 735 hours protecting piping plovers this summer.  In addition, a paid monitor from the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy and biologists from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also helped monitor at Grand Marais.


Biologist looking for piping plovers on a Lake Superior beach near Grand Marais, Michigan.

Monitors walk the Lake Superior coast in Michigan to find and protect piping plover nests and chicks.

Photo by USFWS

Students from Lake Superior State University, working under the supervision of Dr. Jason Garvon, protect piping plovers at Vermillion Point and Whitefish Point.  While monitoring, they stay at the old Life Saving Station at Vermillion Point, a reminder of the dangers once faced by Great Lakes sailors. 


Staff from Seney National Wildlife Refuge helped the students at Whitefish Point with habitat protection at this satellite National Wildlife Refuge.  This past April, the Refuge added 19 acres to the Whitefish Point unit of the refuge, which protected an additional 1,000 feet of shoreline important for nesting piping plovers and thousands of other birds that migrate along this coastline.


August 8, 2013

After 8-year absence, plovers return to Leelanau County, Michigan

This male piping plover is among the first two pairs to nest in Leelanau County, Michigan, in 8 years. Photo by Vince Cavalieri/USFWS

This male piping plover is among the first two pairs to nest in Leelanau County, Michigan, in 8 years.

Photo by Vince Cavalieri/USFWS

This week’s field journal entry comes from the northern tip of Leelanau County, Michigan, where piping plovers have been absent for 8 years.  This season, two pairs of plovers have nested in northern Leelanau County, one pair along the beach of Cathead Bay in Leelanau State Park and another at a nearby location called Christmas Cove on private land.  Both nests have been protected and monitored by Michigan Department of Natural Resources staff from Leelanau State Park as well as volunteer monitors.  Both nests have hatched and should fledge this week.


Al Ammons, chief ranger at Leelanau State Park shares the story of the nest on Cathead Bay:


“After an eight year absence, piping plovers returned to Leelanau State Park’s Cathead Bay shoreline. Changing lake levels and other factors affected the desirability of the area for plover nesting habitat. Single birds were observed passing through, but it wasn’t until this spring that a nesting pair committed to the shore. Four eggs were laid and nurtured, with three chicks ultimately hatching. Park staff, local cottage owners, and members of the Leelanau Conservancy all contributed time to protect and monitor the nest site. It is hoped that all the chicks will fledge, and possibly return to mate and nest in the upper Great Lakes region.”


July 25, 2013

Even Plovers have Their Quirks

Piping plover nest with 3 eggs and 1 rock.

"Rocky's nest in 2007 with 3 eggs and 1 rock!

Photo by Alice Van Zoeren

This is the story of the male plover O,b:X,b and how he earned his nickname “Rocky”.  Rocky first came to our attention in his first year of breeding, 2006, when he built his own nest scrape about 2 m (6 feet) from the real nest he had made with his mate - - and he proceeded to incubate egg-sized rocks when it was his turn on the nest! His mate took her turns on the real eggs but while she fed, he sat on his rocks. We tried wiping out his scrape but he rebuilt it on the same spot and somehow found new rocks to incubate (we never saw him putting them in). About 10 days after the expected hatch date, we collected the eggs (the real eggs) and assumed that they were dead. But, luckily, one of the researchers asked to have a demonstration of egg candling and they discovered that three of the four eggs were still alive. Short story...one of the three actually hatched and survived to fledging after that rough start.


The next spring (2007), Rocky returned and plover monitor, Alice Van Zoeren, discovered him with a new mate. She watched the pair and found their nest. When it was Rocky's turn to incubate, Alice was thrilled to see him sit on the real nest. She approached the nest to count eggs and discovered...three eggs and an egg-sized rock! He and his mate took turns incubating 4 eggs and 2 rocks. Only the eggs hatched, Rocky gave up on his rocks and took good care of the chicks.


Piping plover known to nest monitors as "Rocky" for his propensity to incubate egg-shaped rocks.

Piping plover known to nest monitors as "Rocky" for his inclination to incubate egg-shaped rocks.

Photo by Alice Van Zoeren

Since 2008 he has built completely normal nests, incubated only eggs and has become a very successful, protective and normal dad.  He is now one of the oldest plovers in the population and has successfully fledged over 10 chicks of his own.


In the summer Rocky lives on North Manitou Island in Lake Michigan, part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  Thanks to sharp-eyed volunteers and others on the wintering grounds we also know that Rocky spends his winters at Crandon Beach on Key Biscayne near Miami, Florida.


Rocky’s story comes from Alice Van Zoeren a plover monitor who, just this season, was recognized for ten years of service to the recovery program.  She is a great example of the close ties among the plover recovery partners. She works both with the National Park Service at Sleeping Bear Dunes, home to the largest population of Great Lakes Piping Plovers, and with the University of Minnesota research team that runs the plover banding program.


The Great Lakes Piping Plover is one of the most critically endangered species in all of the upper Midwest.  Breeding on wide sandy beaches associated with large dune complexes across many areas of the upper Great Lakes and migrating through similar areas in the lower Lakes, the piping plover recovery effort is accomplished through close team work among federal, state, private and international partner organizations.


July 18, 2013

The story of the plover "Of,LG:X,R" (aka L'Oreal) - - and what we learn from color banding!


The young piping plover in the foreground is "Of,LG:X,R" with one of its parents. This was taken in 2011, the year she hatched.

The young piping plover in the foreground is "Of,LG:X,R" with one of its parents. This was taken in 2011, the year she hatched.

Photo by Roger Eriksson



piping plover Of,LG:X,R as an adult with her chicks, hatched this summer

And here is piping plover Of,LG:X,R as an adult with her chicks, hatched this summer.

Photo by Phil Odum

Piping plovers nested at the mouth of the Au Sable River, along Michigan's Lake Huron shoreline, in 2011, after an absence of many years. A birder who frequents the area discovered the plover nest and reported it to the USFWS East Lansing office.  


Biologists responded and protected the nest with an exclosure, a small cage placed over the nest that allows piping plovers access but keeps out larger nest predators.  Biologists also put psychological fencing in an area around the nest. Psychological fencing is a series of signs connected by twine. The signs let the public know that an endangered bird is in an area and that access to the area is restricted.


The plover nest was located between a township park and a private condo association, so biologists worked with local officials and the condo association board to prevent beach grooming and other activities from disturbing the plovers. With these measures in place, the nest successfully hatched that June. Unfortunately three of the four chicks were likely eaten by predators shortly after hatching.  


Soon after, the single surviving chick was threatened by the township's 4th of July fireworks, planned for the exact area the chick and its parents were being seen.  Quick work by the USFWS, Michigan DNR, Michigan Audubon Society and township officials got the fireworks launch location moved 300 meters to the north.  Not long after that the single plover chick, leg-banded with color bands so it could be reidentified, could fly on its own and departed for the wintering grounds.


Typically only 25-30% of young plovers survive their first winter and migrations, a time when they face many dangers and obstacles.  However, this young plover survived and returned in 2012 to Tawas State Park, only 10 miles from where it hatched the summer before.  Now an adult, it could be identified as a female and was rebanded with the adult band combination of Of,LG:X,R.  This refers to the her leg bands: Orange Flag, Black, Green: Metal, Red.


With the help of volunteer monitors, USFWS biologists and Michigan DNR staff, the plover Of,LG:X,R fledged all four of her chicks in 2012.  


In the winter of 2012-2013 volunteers on the wintering grounds discovered that Of,LG:X,R spends the winter on Cumberland Island on the coast of Georgia, nearly 1,000 miles in a straight line flight from Tawas State Park.  She once again returned to Tawas State Park in the spring of 2013, where she, once again, fledged all four of her chicks, just last week! 


Of,LG:X,R's story demonstrates the difficulties faced by Great Lakes piping plovers. However, it also shows how conservation partners and the local community are successfully working together. "Of,LG:X,R" also illustrates that saving even one individual bird can make a difference - - she has now fledged eight young, more than replacing herself, and hopefully will continue to return and fledge chicks at Tawas State Park for years to come.


The survival of Of,LG:X,R has been aided by a volunteer plover monitor named Peggy Ridgeway.  A retired school teacher who lives in the local area, Peggy has been instrumental in helping organize other volunteer monitors to help with plover recovery on the Lake Huron shoreline.  In 2012 the National Audubon Society named Peggy one of their "piping plover heroes" because of her efforts.  http://birds.audubon.org/peggy-ridgway-great-lakes-piping-plover-hero-0


July 2, 2013

The first entry, it's been a busy season!


Piping plover on beach edge in Michigan.

This Plover's History

 In 2011, this plover came from a nest that was abandoned at Dimmick's Point on North Manitou Island, part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.  The nest was abandoned when its mother was likely predated by a Merlin.  The eggs were brought to the Salvage Captive Rearing Center where they were incubated and the chicks raised until they could fly on their own.  They were then released back into the wild.  Against long odds (only 25% of young piping plovers survive to return to breed) this plover migrated to its wintering ground somewhere on the southern Atlantic or Gulf Coasts and then migrated back to the Great Lakes in the spring of 2012.  It claimed a territory at Whitefish Point near the new refuge property where it found a mate and successfully fledged 4 chicks of its own.  It has returned to Whitefish Point again this season and is currently incubating a nest near its same territory as last year.


We know this history because the bird was banded as a chick, so we can follow its movements.


Photo by USFWS; Vince Cavelieri

We are roughly halfway through the 2013 Great Lakes piping plover breeding season. 


The first plovers arrived back in the Great Lakes region in April and many of our pairs began nesting in May.  We have found 66 pairs of piping plovers breeding this season, up from 58 pairs in 2012. 


The successful 2012 breeding season (with a high number of young fledged) seems to have contributed to this increase in pair numbers because many of the new pairs include young birds hatched in 2012. 


The cold spring delayed nesting for some pairs so that many pairs are still incubating nests.  More plover chicks than usual will likely not be fledging until August, instead of July, as is more typical. 


Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan has the most pairs with 23, followed by the Vermillion Point and Whitefish Point area on Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula which has 9 pairs.  Other important nesting sites include Long Island in the Apostle Islands National Seashore in Wisconsin which has 5 pairs and Tawas State Park, on Michigan’s Lake Huron shoreline, has 5 pairs.  Additionally, the Salvage Captive Rearing Center is raising 9 chicks that hatched from eggs that we took from abandoned nests.  Once these chicks fledge they will be released back into the wild in areas with wild piping plover chicks.




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Last updated: March 30, 2016
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