From the Field: Saving Piping Plovers

Posted July 26, 2023 by Cody Sowers

By Keepers Cody Sowers and Kim Klosterman

Over the last few weeks, Team Bird has been involved in helping the Great Lakes piping plover project in Northern Michigan.

What’s a piping plover?

The Great Lakes piping plover is an endangered shorebird that has been federally protected under the US Endangered Species Act since 1986. This population at its peak was around 800 pair, hitting the lowest point in 1990 of only 13 pair. This season, a record of 80 pair were recorded!

Based out of the University of Michigan’s Biological Station on Douglas Lake, our base of operations had quite the view:

Plover eggs were delivered from all over the Great Lakes region for artificial incubation, and ultimately the hand rearing of hatched chicks. Eggs were pulled from their natural habitat due to nests being abandoned, and volunteers who were monitoring the nest sites would collect and deliver the eggs. This season, a record 40 chicks were hatched at the facility, which meant a lot of hands with a very specific skill set were needed. The project is operated by the Detroit Zoo, and utilizing bird keepers from all over the country, with the goal of raising these chicks with minimal interaction and getting them back out into their natural habitat around 25-35 days old. This enables the chicks to get their bearings, get around other piping plovers, and then start their migration at the end of the summer. Very quick turnaround!

Plovers have quite a few challenges in their natural habitat; an uptick in the local merlin population, unleashed dogs, domestic cats, and building their nest sites where we humans like to recreate. Luckily, Team Bird was able to assist and get quite a few plovers back to their natural habitat. You can find out more information on their website.