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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

Return of the Piping Plover to Whitefish Point: A Seney National Wildlife Refuge Success Story

Region 3, August 1, 2012
Piping Plover at Whitefish Point Unit, Seney National Wildlife Refuge
Piping Plover at Whitefish Point Unit, Seney National Wildlife Refuge - Photo Credit: n/a
Piping Plover at Whitefish Point Unit, Seney National Wildlife Refuge
Piping Plover at Whitefish Point Unit, Seney National Wildlife Refuge - Photo Credit: n/a

As waves wash lightly along the cobble-lined shoreline, the 647 foot Great Lakes Freighter, Arthur M. Anderson, drifts by silently on the horizon. A few lone “peeps” are heard off in the distance and to the avid birder it is the distinct sound of the federally endangered Great Lakes piping plover.

The Whitefish Point Unit is a satellite unit of Seney National Wildlife Refuge located on the south shore of Lake Superior about an hour and a half northeast of Seney Refuge. This parcel of property on “the point” as it is often referred to, was transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1998 from the U.S. Coast Guard. It is a unique, 33-acre, stunted jack pine, gravely beach and sand dune dominated habitat that acts as a funnel for numerous species of birds crossing Lake Superior each spring and fall.

From 1986-2008 piping plovers were virtually non-existent at Whitefish Point, but in 2009, the first pair in 23 years nested and successfully fledged four young. Single pairs returned again in 2010 and 2011 and raised three chicks each year. This year has been a terrific year as the point saw four separate pairs of plovers utilizing the shoreline.

In late May, three of the four pairs nested on the beach and hatched 12 young, of which 11 fledged. Before each young plover reaches 10 days old, it receives its own distinct colored band combination which makes it easier to identify in future years. College students from Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. monitor the beach at Whitefish Point, Vermilion and Port Inland. As in-kind service for piping plover monitoring at Whitefish Point, Seney Refuge provides housing at their bunkhouse for the monitor who primarily works at Port Inland.

The Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy monitors the beaches at Gulliver and Grand Marais. Piping plover monitors spend long days early in the summer walking miles of shoreline along Lakes Superior and Michigan looking for plovers and their nests. Once a nest is located an exclosure is put up to keep predators and humans away. About 30 days after nesting, young plovers will be scurrying along the sand in search of an easy meal of insects. The young grow quickly and just forty-five days later they are able to fly and prepare for the 1,000 mile journey to the southeastern United States along the Atlantic coast for the winter.

The piping plover has come a long way since being listed on the Federal Endangered Species List in 1985. All of the efforts described have contributed to the growing population from an estimated 17 pairs in the Great Lakes region to a high of 71 breeding pairs in 2009 with 58 breeding pairs in 2012. This is due, in large part, to monitoring by many dedicated employees and volunteers, predator and human exclosures, and a captive rearing program for orphaned piping plovers.

Submitted by Jeremy Maslowski (WRS SCEP)
Seney National Wildlife Refuge




Contact Info: Greg McClellan, 906-586-9851 ext. 13, greg_mcclellan@fws.gov