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Great Lakes piping plovers see a mix of recovery progress

Newly banded Great Lakes piping plover chick. Photo courtesy of Joel Trick

Newly banded Great Lakes piping plover chick. Photo courtesy of Joel Trick.

By Vincent Cavalieri
Michigan Ecological Services Field Office


Reena Bowman
Minnesota-Wisconsin Ecological Services Field Office

A cold winter and poor fledging season in 2017 brought mixed results for endangered Great Lakes piping plovers in 2018. This year’s breeding population dipped to 67 pairs after several years of hovering around the 75-pair mark. On the plus side, despite fewer pairs, nesting plovers had a successful breeding season. For the second year in a row breeding piping plovers were found on all five Great Lakes, a benchmark reached in 2017 for the first time in 55 years.

Another plus: chick production in 2018 was very good, with 1.84 chicks per pair fledged in the wild. The rate was even higher, 1.99 chicks fledged per pair, when counting chicks that fledged from the salvage captive-rearing program. This made 2018 the best breeding season since 2013 and one of the best years ever. Particularly good breeding success occurred at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which fledged a record 72 chicks. Wasaga Beach in Ontario fledged nine chicks out of 12 eggs laid, and in the eastern Great Lakes, nests in Pennsylvania and New York both fledged four chicks each.

Habitat restoration work continued to pay dividends for Great Lakes piping plovers. Restored plover habitat at Wilderness State Park in northern Michigan supported three piping plover pairs that fledged four chicks. In Wisconsin, three pairs of piping plovers fledged three chicks at the restored Cat Island Chain in Green Bay. Elsewhere in Wisconsin, three pairs nested at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore’s Long Island. This site has continuously supported piping plovers since 2005. Plovers at both Wisconsin sites are successful thanks to the ongoing partnership among the Service, National Park Service, Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe, U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Brown County Port, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others.

Adult Great Lakes piping plover by Vincent Cavalieri/USFWS.

Adult Great Lakes piping plover by Vincent Cavalieri/USFWS.

2018 breeding season by the numbers

  • 67 Pairs
  • 68 nests
  • 263 eggs laid
  • 204 eggs hatched in the wild
  • 123 chicks fledged in the wild
  • 10 chicks fledged in captivity
  • 1.84 chicks per pair fledged in the wild (recovery criteria is 1.5)
  • 1.99 chicks per pair fledged counting captive chicks
Last updated: June 8, 2020