Wisconsin Ecological Services Field Office

Midwest Region


Wisconsin Field Office

2661 Scott Tower Drive
Green Bay, WI 54229-9565
Phone: 920-866-1717
Fax: 920-866-1710
TTY: 1-800-877-8339 (Federal Relay)

e-mail: GreenBay@fws.gov


Connect With Us


Facebook icon Facebook

Flickr icon Flickr
RSS RSS Twitter icon Twitter
YouTube icon YouTube  



Links to Whooping Crane Sighting Report Form
Buy Duck Stamps icon Endangered Species Day icon

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative logo

Piping Plover in Wisconsin


The piping plover (Great Lakes Population) is a small shorebird on the brink of extinction. When first listed as endangered in 1986, only 17 pairs nested in Michigan. Plovers numbers have increased since then and they expanded their range back into Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ontario, Canada; although in small numbers.


In Wisconsin, piping plovers nest on the beaches of the Apostle Island National Lakeshore.


The Past

In the late 1800s, there were probably 500 to 800 pairs of piping plovers nesting on Great Lakes beaches, with 100 pairs nesting on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior shorelines in Wisconsin.


Piping Plover Historic Nest Sites in the Great Lakes


Map of Piping plover historical nesting sites in the Great Lakes.


View larger version of map - PDF



Piping plovers once nested on Great Lakes beaches in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ontario, Canada. When listed as endangered in 1986, the 17 remaining pairs nested in Michigan.


Piping plovers were shot for sport and for their feathers during the late 1800s and early 1900s. We are not sure how much this caused their population decline in the Great Lakes. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 made it illegal to hunt piping plovers and removed hunting as a threat.


A greater threat to piping plovers during the first half of the 2oth century was increasing human use of beaches where plovers nested. Beaches were used and developed for recreation, homes and industry. By 1948, only a single pair of plovers nested in Wisconsin, in Door County. Piping plovers have rarely nested on the Lake Michigan shore in Wisconsin since then.


After 1948, a few piping plovers were seen each spring in Wisconsin. From 1974 to 1983, two to three pairs would show up on Lake Superior's Long Island and Chequamegon Point. In fact, three pairs of plovers nested in Ashland County in 1978, but only one pair reared young. Of two pairs seen there in 1979 and 1980, only one produced chicks each year. In 1986, the the piping plover was listed as endangered and only one adult returned to the traditional nesting territory in Ashland County. (from Wisconsin DNR website)


In 1977, the Great Lakes population was estimated at 31 nesting pairs but declined to 17 pairs by 1985 - all pairs that nested in Michigan.


Numbers of pairs nesting since 1986

When the piping plover was listed as endangered in 1986, the Great Lakes population nested exclusively at a few sites on the northeastern shore of Lake Michigan and southeastern shore of Lake Superior in Michigan, the state with the most habitat remaining.


Between 1986 and 2002, nests were recorded at 34 breeding sites in 12 counties in Michigan and 2 counties in Wisconsin.


In Wisconsin, since 1998, piping plovers have nested in most years.


Recovery Goal

A goal of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Great Lakes Piping Plover Restoration Plan is to restore and maintain a viable population of plovers (150 pairs) so the species can be removed from the Threatened and Endangered Species List by 2020.



Piping Plover Home

Field Office Home


Last updated: January 7, 2020