GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It was a banner year for the Great Lakes piping plover. Audubon Great Lakes reports 150 chicks have survived the fledgling process, the largest number since the bird was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1986.
The 150 chicks come from 72 breeding pairs, 48 of which are in Michigan.
The Sleeping Bear dunes is a hot spot for plovers. Park rangers go to great lengths to block of parts of the park to keep the chicks safe. After hatching, the tiny birds are extremely vulnerable. It takes them approximately three weeks to learn how to fly, making them easy pickings for predators.
Vince Cavalieri, a wildlife biologist with Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, told Audubon Great Lakes that their hard work is critical to the bird’s survival and paid off this year.
“A continued increase in nests and pairs in the southern part of the park resulted in an increase of plover-park visitor interactions at these highly visited locations,” Cavalieri said. “Wildlife staff, law enforcement rangers, and park partners worked diligently to educate park visitors and protect the nesting piping plovers in these locations. And our mainland plover nests had some of the highest fledge rates we have ever seen in the park.”
The Great Lakes piping plover population has been stagnant for the past several years, holding around 70 nesting pairs. Michigan wildlife officials hope this successful breeding season leads to increased numbers.
The Great Lakes piping plover was on the verge of extinction when it was added to the endangered species list in 1985. At one point, the population was estimated between 12 and 17 nesting pairs.
Biologists say the Great Lakes piping plover is extremely picky when it comes to making a nest. They prefer beaches with a lot of pebbles and rocks, and if they ever feel threatened, they will abandon the nest.
Habitat loss has been a big problem for the bird, with fewer isolated beaches left along the Great Lakes. They also face several predators, including crows and raccoons. It’s also why park officials at the Sleeping Bear Dunes don’t allow pets on stretches of beach where plovers are nesting.
In addition to the 150 fledglings, 10 plover fledglings reared in captivity were released into the wild, including six at the Sleeping Bear Dunes.