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A special plover completes 1,300-mile migration

January 28, 2019

Great Lakes piping plover Bimaajii on the beach in Florida. Photo courtesy of Cheri Hollis.
Great Lakes piping plover Bimaajii on the beach in Florida. Photo courtesy of Cheri Hollis.

In the language of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, his name is Bimaajii, or “one who moves about.” He’s an endangered Great Lakes piping plover, found in May 2018 on High Island in Lake Michigan by Bill Parsons and Archie Kiogama, wildlife biologists for the Odawa. After discovery, Bimaajii was banded with a unique combination of colored bands and named Of,YL:X,R in the unique parlance of the University of Minnesota researchers that study the Great Lakes piping plovers. The colors selected for Bimaajii’s bands -- yellow, red and black -- are the colors of the Odawa medicine wheel.

The Little Traverse Bay Band has been working with us at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other partners on Great Lakes piping plover conservation for many years. As part of their efforts, they monitor High Island each summer for signs of nesting plovers. Tribal biologists also found a second plover in May, a female called Migaaza, or “she is fighting.” Keeping a close watch on the pair, the biologists discovered a nest in June. They placed an exclosure, or small cage, around the nest, allowing the birds to come and go but keeping predators like gulls and ravens at bay. The Band’s actions helped the birds’ chances of nesting success, and the pair hatched a chick. When researchers returned to band the chick it was named Ozaa giizis oons, or “little yellow sun.”

Fast forward to November 6, when birder Cheri Hollis photographed a piping plover at Bunche Beach, near Fort Myers, Florida. The bird had a unique pattern of colored bands, and a check of records revealed that Bimaajii had lived up to his name, traveling 1,300 miles to wintering grounds.

The Great Lakes piping plover population is small and critically imperiled, nesting on wide sandy beaches of the Great Lakes and nowhere else. Now that Bimaajii has reached his winter home in Florida, he will likely spend the next five to six months resting and foraging on the beaches and intertidal flats of the Gulf Coast. In April he will begin to feel the stir of migration once again and will begin winging his way north to High Island. Biologists of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians will again be ready to help him nest successfully once again, aiding the recovery of one of the most endangered members of our native wildlife.