The Piping Plover Recovery Program, Michigan, USA
The Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) is a small shorebird weighing from 1.5 – 2.2 oz. There are three populations of piping plover; the Atlantic, the Northern Great Plains and the Great Lakes piping plover (G.L.P.P.). Historical estimates of the Great Lakes piping plover (GLPP) are between 500-800 pairs that occurred throughout the Great Lakes region. Due to habitat destruction, nest disruption, hunting and predation numbers dropped to approximately 17 breeding pairs. In 1986 the G.L.P.P. was placed on the Endangered Species List. Between 1986 and 2005 their numbers have fluctuated between 12 and 60 breeding pairs. Today they are found mainly in Michigan.
In 2003 the G.L.P.P. recovery program was approved. Its objective is to restore and maintain a viable population to the Great Lakes. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of Minnesota and the Charadiiformes TAG have coordinated their efforts to protect the G.L.P.P. To increase genetic diversity and increase population numbers, abandoned nests or nests that are in imminent danger of being lost are salvaged and taken to the University of Michigan’s Biological Research (UMBS) station in Pellston, Michigan.
Janet Long, Animal Health Zoologist at the Minnesota Zoo, participated in this conservation program in the summer of 2005 with help from a grant awarded by the Ulysses S. Seal Conservation Grant Program of the Minnesota Zoo. During the nesting season from mid-May until mid-August zookeepers from across the country work one week each at the UMBS artificially incubating and hand-rearing salvaged eggs and chicks. When the eggs hatch, the chicks are fed every 2 hours from sun up to sun down. Their diet consists mainly of mayflies, which are caught for them daily, lake invertebrates and marine worms.
The chicks will be released and have to learn to survive on their own within 28 days, so behavioral conditioning is very important. To encourage natural behavior and decrease the chances of imprinting on humans, the chicks are taken to an outside lakefront enclosure daily. The enclosure extends into the water to help the chicks learn to wade and hunt for food. Other behavioral conditioning consists of playing a pre-recorded tape of an adult’s alarm call when there is danger in the area. By mimicking an adult’s warning call, the chicks learn to react to danger. After 28 days of rearing and conditioning the chicks are banded and released back to the wild. Generally they are taken back to their nest site for release. If that is not possible they are released in an area with chicks of about the same age.
The Great Lakes piping plover population has gradually increased since 1986 thanks to the dedication of many individuals and agencies. The Ulysses S. Seal Conservation Grant Program provided funding in 2007 for Janet Long, Animal Health Zoologist at the Minnesota Zoo, to participate in the GLPP recovery program.