Newsroom Midwest Region

2017 was another very good year for Great Lakes piping plovers

An adult Great Lakes piping plover runs along the shoreline. Photo by Vincent Cavalieri/USFWS.
An adult Great Lakes piping plover runs along the shoreline. Photo by Vincent Cavalieri/USFWS.

Despite stormy weather and predators, 2017 proved to be a record year for endangered Great Lakes piping plovers. Biologists and plover monitors once again fanned out throughout the Great Lakes Basin, searching likely habitat for incoming piping plovers in April and May. The overall pair count was excellent, with 76 breeding pairs located throughout the Great Lakes, a record number of pairs since the population was listed in 1985.

Due to storms and predation, productivity was not as high as in recent years, with about 1.3 chicks fledged per pair compared to a 5-year average of 1.64 chicks fledged per pair. Fortunately, partners at the Detroit Zoo raised 16 additional chicks at the salvage captive rearing facility from eggs that had been abandoned. Release of these chicks into the wild bumped productivity up near the 1.5 chicks fledged per pair recovery goal.

There was an unusually high density of plovers at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan which ended up having a record 41 pairs (the previous high was 28).

“We commend the staff and volunteers at Sleeping Bear Dunes for shouldering the burden of so many extra nests,” said Vincent Cavalieri, Service biologist and plover recovery coordinator. “Keeping track of nesting at Sleeping Bear Dunes was particularly challenging, as nests were spread among two offshore islands and the mainland.”

Plovers also did well in Wisconsin, where a record eight pairs nested in 2017. Four pairs were spotted on the shores of the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior, while the number of nesting pairs jumped from one to four at the Cat Island chain in Green Bay, where recent habitat restoration work proved beneficial.

An exciting development was the return of nesting Great Lakes piping plovers to Lake Erie when two pairs of plovers nested on Gull Point at Presque Isle State Park, Pennsylvania. This was particularly exciting, not only because it was the first plover nest on Lake Erie since 1977, but it was the first time piping plovers were nesting on all five Great Lakes in the same season since 1955, a remarkable development for the recovery program! Pennsylvania was a good microcosm of the whole recovery program with Non-Government Organizations and state government. Partners worked together to help two chicks from those nests fledge in the wild, and rescued two eggs that were washed out so they could fledge successfully from the captive rearing station.

A piping plover on a stony Great Lakes beach. Photo by Vincent Cavalieri/USFWS.
A piping plover on a stony Great Lakes beach. Photo by Vincent Cavalieri/USFWS.