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A Great Lakes piping lover chick is banded at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Photo by Vince Cavalieri/USFWS

A Great Lakes piping lover chick is banded at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Photo by Vince Cavalieri/USFWS.

Near-Record Year for Great Lakes Piping Plovers!

With the release of the last piping plover chicks from the salvage captive rearing program on August 21, another Great Lakes piping plover breeding season is in the books. It was a near-record year for the plovers, with 70 breeding pairs located in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario. This was just shy of the record of 71 located in 2009. After experiencing declines in 2010 and 2011, this is now the third year in a row that the Great Lakes piping plover population has increased in number.

A Great Lakes piping plover performs a distraction display, attempting to lure away biologists banding its chick. Photo by Vince Cavalieri/USFWS
A Great Lakes piping plover performs a distraction display, attempting to lure away biologists banding its chick. Photo by Vince Cavalieri/USFWS.

The plovers nest on beaches owned by a wide variety of partners. Some are federal, such as Sleeping Bear Dunes and Apostle Islands National Lakeshores, and Hiawatha National Forest. Some are owned by states, such as Michigan's Ludington and Tawas State Parks. Other locations have strong efforts from Great Lakes tribes, such as Long Island, Wisconsin and High Island, Michigan. And some plovers nest on township properties and private lands. With the wide variety of landowners and other stakeholders, the Great Lakes piping plover recovery efforts would not be a success without strong efforts from all the partners.

For the ninth time in the last 10 years, Great Lakes piping plovers produced over 1.5 chicks per pair. This is one of the most important recovery goals and should keep the plover population headed in the right direction. This would not be possible without the tireless efforts of the many plover monitors from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Lake Superior State University, Michigan DNR, Bad River Tribe, Student Conservation Association and volunteers from Michigan Audubon. These and other groups spend most of the summer locating plovers and plover nests, putting up nest exclosures and psychological fencing and alerting biologists of potential issues at each piping plover nesting site.

Other important pieces of the recovery program include monitoring assistance and research by the University of Minnesota that helps inform recovery efforts, and the salvage captive rearing program run by staff from the Detroit Zoo with assistance from other Association of Zoos and Aquariums institutions. As part of this program, abandoned plover eggs and chicks are taken into captivity, reared by volunteer zookeepers from around the country and then released into the wild once they are able to fly. Many banded Great Lakes plovers are already being re-sighted by Service staff and volunteers on their wintering grounds on the southern Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States. Now the plovers will begin another part of their life cycle until they return to the Great Lakes next spring!

By Vince Cavalieri

Last updated: September 4, 2014