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A male piping plover tends his chick on North Manitou Island, Michigan. Photo by Vince Cavalieri/USFWS.

A male piping plover tends his chick on North Manitou Island, Michigan. Photo by Vince Cavalieri/USFWS.

Record breaking number of chicks fledged
for Great Lakes piping plover

Groundhog Day? Seems like the Great Lakes piping plover population is a rerun of the beginning of last year’s nesting season. The 2016 season started with the same two males arriving at the two exact same places in Michigan and on the same exact April day as in 2015. These males, BO:X,g at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and OF,YG:X,G at Manistee, are two of the oldest plovers in the population and have been nesting at these sites for many years. This highlights the high site fidelity that is displayed by piping plovers; where individual birds are not only tied into a location but even follow similar patterns year after year.

But the 2016 season played out differently from the previous one. After other plovers began to arrive in the Great Lakes region and by the beginning of May, the first nests were being laid. Soon after the start of the season, one of the biggest developments became apparent, as observers reported  many more birds in Ontario than in previous breeding seasons; ultimately a record 15 pairs were spotted breeding in the province. These plovers bred at three new Ontario sites in 2016, with two pairs nesting at Darlington Provincial Park and a single pair each nesting at both Limestone Islands Provincial Park and at Presquille Provincial Park.

Another major trend was the increase in piping plovers nesting on North Manitou Island. This island, part of Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, has been an important piping plover nesting location for many years, but in 2016 North Manitou took on an even bigger role, with a total of 20 pairs nesting on the island.

Additional 2016 highlights were plover pairs nesting at habitat restoration sites at both Wilderness State Park in Michigan and in the Cat Island Chain in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Wilderness State Park pair was especially exciting as this habitat restoration project was designed specifically to help return piping plovers to this former stronghold.

Most of the nests hatched in June and early July, and by mid-August most of the plover chicks had fledged and had begun their long trip back to wintering grounds along the coasts of the southern United States and parts of the Caribbean. Thanks to the hard work of the dozens of biologists, plover monitors and volunteers that make up the Great Lakes Piping Plover recovery effort, a new program record of 133 chicks were fledged in the wild in 2016, beating the old record of 128 fledged in 2015 and continuing to put the Great Lakes piping plover on the path to recovery. Let’s hope next year’s sequel is as good or even better!

By Vince Cavalieri
East Lansing Ecological Services

Last updated: June 8, 2020