Great Lakes Piping Plovers
NOTE FOR 2020:
Because of Covid-19 concerns and restrictions our captive-rearing process had to be changed. Abandoned eggs were transported to the Detroit Zoo for incubation, hatching and stabilization of the young chicks. Once the chicks were a week or two old they were brought to the University of Michigan Biological Station where a small crew raised them in the facility described below until they were ready for release. Thankfully everything worked out for this change of plans since a record number of Plover eggs/chicks were rescued and raised in captivity this summer due mostly to the high levels of the Great Lakes.
Each season Piping Plover monitors are trained to recognize and watch for the signs that a nest will likely be abandoned. Unfortunately some nests are inevitably abandoned each season, most often when an adult plover is taken by a predator or when high water washes out a nest. When a monitor suspects that a nest has been, or will soon be abandoned, they get in contact with their supervisors and follow a specific protocol that details when eggs should be taken from the nest. Once a decision is made to rescue the eggs, they are rushed to the University of Michigan Biological Station near Pellston, MI where the Detroit Zoo manages a captive rearing facility for Great Lakes Piping Plovers.
The Captive-rearing facility at the University of Michigan Biological Station
The new predator-proof flight cage, under construction
The Detroit Zoo, because of their expertise in bird care and incubation, has developed protocols to incubate abandoned eggs and then care for the chicks that hatch until they are ready to be released back into the wild. They also oversee volunteer zookeepers from other AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquarium) institutions who spend two weeks or so of their summer caring for Piping Plover eggs and chicks.
Young chick with feather-duster "parent".
Outside flight cage on edge of lake.
Growing chicks in inside pen.
Older chicks in lakeside cage.
Once the chick are able to fly well, they are released back into the wild on Great Lakes beaches. Whenever possible they are released near plover families that have similarly-aged wild chicks.
In some years over 20 additional Great Lakes Piping Plovers who otherwise wouldn't have survived join the population because of the efforts of the Detroit Zoo and other AZA zookeepers. If you see a plover with an orange flag and a "split band" (two colors on one band), you will know you are seeing a captive-reared plover, a special part of our recovery efforts!
Release into the wild.
Trying out its wings
Captive rearing has been used in the Great Lakes as a last resort salvage effort in the event of nest abandonment since 1992. Many captive-reared individuals have bred successfully, contributing to the recovery of Great Lakes Piping Plovers. Although survival of captive-reared plovers is somewhat lower, fledging success among chicks in the captive-rearing program is greater than 90%, as compared with ~50% fledging success in the wild. This technique is an important option for helping to increase the Piping Plover population.
One captive-rearing sucess story is that of "Little Cooper" (Of,L/OY:X,b)