Midwest Region


February 23, 2012

Tina Shaw, 612-713-5331
Georgia Parham, 812-334-4261

Piping Plover Nesting Habitat Protection Along the Shores of Lake Michigan

The endangered piping plover will soon return to the beaches of the Great Lakes to begin another nesting season. Mike Morel/USFWS
The endangered piping plover will soon return to the beaches of the Great Lakes to begin another nesting season. Mike Morel/USFWS

The endangered piping plover will soon return to the beaches of the Great Lakes to begin another nesting season. In 2011, there were approximately 55 breeding pairs of piping plover in the Great Lakes region. Plovers nest on wide sand and cobble beaches near where the vegetation starts to grow. Each pair of plovers normally has a clutch of four eggs that both adults incubate for about 28 days. After the eggs hatch, the chicks are extremely vulnerable because they cannot fly for their first four weeks. During this time, any type of harassment can significantly decrease their chances of survival. If adult plovers are chased away because of harassment, the flightless chicks are easy prey for gulls and other predators, as the adults are not there to warn them of danger. Dogs that are not on a leash can easily chase and injure or kill the chicks.

Cooperation by private landowners is key to recovery efforts for this highly vulnerable species. In a typical year 20 to 30 % of Great Lakes piping plovers nest on private property. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) works closely with groups such as the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy (UPLC) to establish partnerships with private landowners in order to protect the plovers. During the breeding seasons, UPLC employees closely monitor each plover nest from a safe distance. They also educate landowners, and other people who recreate on the beach, about how to coexist without adversely affecting breeding efforts. Most landowners and beach users are mindful of piping plover nests and are willing to help. “Once people understand the plight of the species and that their actions can make a difference in helping piping plovers survive, most people gladly do their part” states Jack Dingledine, deputy field supervisor for the Service’s East Lansing Field Office. “Many landowners are proud to have such a rare species nest on their property.”

Unfortunately, not all nesting piping plovers on private property are safe from actions that can harm the species. In June of 2010, a Special Agent with the FWS initiated an investigation into allegations that a landowner had been harassing endangered piping plovers, a federally protected species, that were nesting on a stretch of beach near her property on Lake Michigan.

The investigation revealed that in the summers of 2009 and 2010 a private landowner had knowingly harassed plovers by repeatedly allowing her un-leashed dog near a plover nest, approaching a hatching plover nest on several occasions, and permitting the use of all-terrain vehicles near plover nests. Local plover biologists from the UPLC attempted to curtail these disruptive activities by educating the landowner and obtaining voluntary compliance, but these efforts failed. These disturbances can cause adult piping plovers to abandon their nest or chicks potentially resulting in their death. During 2009 and 2010, none of the plover chicks survived at either of the nests near the property. The investigation found that the landowner had violated the Endangered Species Act, resulting in $7,500 in restitution and 80 hours of community service.

The recovery of this highly endangered species is dependent on the cooperation of private landowners and those who visit our Great Lakes shorelines. On your next visit to the beach, you can help protect the Great Lakes piping plover by: 

  1. Staying away from posted piping plover breeding areas.
  2. Keeping your dog leashed while on beaches with nesting piping plovers.
  3. Packing out your food waste and garbage that would attract gulls and other predators.
  4. Not operating vehicles on beaches with nesting piping plovers.
  5. Reporting the location of piping plover to the Service
  6. Leaving driftwood and other wrack on the beaches.
  7. Reporting people or pets disturbing piping plovers to the Service or DNR RAP line.
  8. Learning more about piping plover.

To learn more about piping plovers, visit:


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Last updated: June 15, 2016