The Great Lakes piping plover is a small, stocky, sand-colored migratory shorebird that makes its nests in small depressions on Great Lakes cobble beaches. It spends a short time in the Great Lakes region—between May and early August—until it gets the urge to migrate south, where it spends winters along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries plover populations declined because of over-hunting, egg collecting and the millinery trade, when it was fashionable to wear feathers and even whole birds on hats. Plover numbers continued to drop as sensitive plover habitat was converted for public recreation and development. In 1986 when fewer than 19 breeding pairs survived (all in Michigan), the Great Lakes piping plover was listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Today, a consortium of citizens, townships, government agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, universities such as the University of Minnesota and organizations such as the UP Land Conservancy seek to stabilize the population. The program consists of a captive rearing program for abandoned eggs; nest and chick protection from predators and human disturbances; and some critical habitat protection.
These efforts have worked so far: the nesting locations of the plover have expanded outside of Michigan, and since 2001 the population has ranged from 50 to more than 70 pairs. In spite of the successes, piping plovers remain threatened by development, recreation, invasive species, disease, natural and introduced predation and other disturbances from humans and dogs that can cause birds to abandon their nests. Fluctuating lake levels and changing weather conditions also threaten the population.
Teresa Bertossi, adjunct instructor in the Department of Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences at NMU, works with the U.P. Land Conservancy to protect the Great Lakes piping plover at nesting sites at Grand Sable Dunes near Grand Marais, Michigan. Teresa was assisted by student volunteers from NMU, who banded this summer's chicks to monitor them.
NMU Environmental Science major Teddy Short and Environmental Studies & Sustainability major Emily Mydlowski release recently banded piping plover chicks.
EEGS students work with NMU adjunct instructor Teresa Bertossi from the U.P. Land Conservancy, and with the banding team from the University of Michigan Biological Station, to help band endangered piping plover chicks.
Newly banded piping plover chick.
Two-and-a-half week old piping clover chick stretches its wings against the backdrop of the Grand Sable Dunes, Grand Marais, Michigan.