Half of the 16 captive-reared Great Lakes Piping Plover chicks that were released this summer have been seen on wintering territories. Two each are in North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida. There is one in each of Georgia and Texas. None of these individuals would have had the possibility of helping increase the population of this endangered bird without the help of our captive rearing program, led by the Detroit Zoo.
The most recent captive-reared chick, reported by Peggy Lucas at Harbor Island, SC, had a very long shot at survival. It came from a late-season nest on North Manitou Island, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, MI, that was abandoned on July 3rd. The male hadn’t been incubating very regularly for about a week, and the female disappeared that day. She hasn’t been seen again since then. The eggs were collected and kept warm in our backcountry camp overnight with hand warmers in a “cooler”, and turned regularly throughout the night. In the morning they were carried the 5 miles to the dock to catch the ferry. Usually the Park Service boat-captain goes out of his way to pick up abandoned eggs promptly, but the boat wasn’t running on the July 4th holiday. The morning ferry was filled, but after waiting all day, plover monitor Mat Nicklay was able to get on the afternoon ferry with his precious cargo. An egg incubator, new this summer, was put to good use keeping the eggs warm overnight at the Sleeping Bear Dunes Natural Resources office. They were transported to the captive-rearing facility at the University of Michigan Biological Station the following morning. Although the chicks hatched with some health issues, probably due to their long time in transit, three of the four survived and were released back into the wild when they were about a month old. It’s amazing that this juvenile reported by Peggy made it all the way to South Carolina after such a rough start in life.
Another chick recently discovered by Pat and Doris Leary near Cedar Key, FL, had an even more difficult journey to the captive-rearing facility. This individual was in an egg in one of the first two Piping Plover nests to be established in Pennsylvania in 60 years. On June 25th Mary Birdsong, the monitor on duty, noticed that waves driven by strong wind gusts were threatening one of the nests. She contacted Cathy Haffner, Wildlife Biologist, Pennsylvania Game Commission, who got the wheels rolling. People from Pennsylvania to Michigan leapt into action. Wildlife Biologist Tim Hoppe got to the nest site by boat, and collected the eggs. Mary held the box of eggs on the way back in the boat to absorb the shock of the waves. From the boat the eggs were transferred to a portable incubator and driven to the Detroit Zoo, where they spent the night. The next day, they were transported north to the captive-rearing facility near Pellston, MI, where they later hatched and were raised until their release at Whitefish Point, MI. The hard work and dedication of all individuals involved paid off as at least one of the chicks from this nest made it south to Florida. You can read more about this summer's Pennsylvania Piping Plover nesting at: http://www.audubon.org/news/success-piping-plovers-nested-pennsylvania-first-time-60-years
We hope we’ll see many of these captive-reared plovers back up north next summer, producing their own chicks to add to the population. Each individual that we can rescue gets us closer to recovery.